Edinburgh International Festival review: Declan

Declan is a brand new take on the Traverse Theatre’s 2019 Festival hit production Mouthpiece, about class, culture and appropriation.

Declan is available for audiences to experience through the Traverse Theatre and Edinburgh International Festival websites for a limited period from Monday, August 24.
Declan is available for audiences to experience through the Traverse Theatre and Edinburgh International Festival websites for a limited period from Monday, August 24.

Declan *****

On Salisbury Crags, Muirhouse boy Declan draws in his sketch-book, in flight from a home life dominated by his Mum’s violent boyfriend; nearby, unaware of him, Libby inches towards suicide, in despair after the failure of her playwriting career in London.

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This is the opening scene of Kieran Hurley’s brilliant play Mouthpiece, first seen at the Traverse in December 2018; and now 20 months on, under the pressure of lockdown, it also marks the beginning of Lorn Macdonald’s superb 30 minute film Declan, produced as part of this year’s Traverse Festival onlilne, which focuses tightly on Declan’s monologue about his life, and makes it the basis for a thrilling and disturbing journey through Edinburgh as a divided city, whose very beauty becomes part of Declan’s pain, and his sense of exclusion.

The story Declan tells is simple; essentially, Libby first befriends and encourages him, but then appropriates and uses his life, and his very words, to reignite her fading career as a writer. The action spirals towards a heart-stopping finale in the Traverse auditorium; but in the course of a story which is partly about the ethics of theatre itself, Hurley in his play, and Macdonald in this film, produce an explosive study of class and social inequality in contemporary Britain, as well as of the ambiguous role of the arts, as both a system that exercises its own brutal exclusions, and a vital path to liberation and joy.

Macdonald himself played Declan in the original production; and here, with help from Angus Taylor who also plays Declan, from a powerful soundtrack by composer Kim Moore, and from Nisan Yetkin’s superb graphics, his fierce focus on Declan’s words and his inner life pays rich dividends, creating a true filmic tragedy for our time, full of anger, pathos, and a blazing sense of potential, at constant knife-edge risk of being cruelly shut down, for good.

Declan is available online until 3 September at www.traverse.co.uk

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