Theatre review: LipSync / Cumbernauld Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh

LipSync is part of Cumbernauld Theatre's Invited Guest programme.LipSync is part of Cumbernauld Theatre's Invited Guest programme.
LipSync is part of Cumbernauld Theatre's Invited Guest programme.
TWO YOUNG WOMEN sit apart on stage, at desks, in front of shimmering laptops.

LipSync / Cumbernauld Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh * * * *

They are dressed identically in white overall suits, they often speak in unison, they both seem to be playing the same character; and at first it seems we may be looking at a play set in the near future, perhaps about the kind of artificial intelligence that imitates a human presence.

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In fact, though, LipSync - created by Cumbernauld Theatre as part of its Invited Guest programme, telling unique stories from the community around the theatre - is using these tropes and techniques for another reason entirely, which only becomes apparent as we learn that the show’s only character, Kirsty Young, is telling us about her experience of living with cystic fibrosis, a disease which gradually robs sufferers of lung capacity and therefore of the ability to breathe, leaving them with a life expectancy of around 36 years, and often less.

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Gradually, we come to understand both the limitations Kirsty faces, and the precious understanding it gives her of the sheer value of life, and in particular of the singing and music-making she loves; against all the odds, she has succeeded in becoming a music teacher. And we also come to understand how every initially puzzling aspect of this increasingly unforgettable show - co-directed by Amy Angus and Ed Robson, with dramaturgy by Fringe award-winner Jenna Watt - is in fact shaped by the demands of Kirsty’s condition; the fact that the performance is mainly static, that the singing is soft, and that Kirsty needs the help of a second actor playing herself (in this case, the wonderfully supportive Ailsa Davidson) in order to get through the show.

At some performances, if Kirsty is unwell, her place is taken by co-director Amy Angus. For those of us fortunate enough to see her own glowing, authoritative performance, though, this show emerges as a remarkable exploration both of the specifics of one as yet incurable condition, and of the general truth that chronic life-threatening illness takes human beings into whole new worlds of insight and experience, explored here with an artistry that is as gentle as it is disciplined, and as moving as it is unsentimental.

Until 17 August

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