Theatre review: Stuff, Eastgate Theatre, Peebles

There are more hoarders around than you would think; not just people who are a bit reluctant to chuck things out but people whose inability to let go of anything at all has become a serious threat to their wellbeing.
Carol Ann Crawford in StuffCarol Ann Crawford in Stuff
Carol Ann Crawford in Stuff

Magda, the heroine of Sylvia Dow’s new play Stuff, is one of those people; and when the desperate clutter of old boxes that fills her house and garden begins to attract complaints from neighbours, Jackie the social worker turns up with the difficult news that Magda’s house will have to be compulsorily cleared of all her precious stuff, sometime fairly soon.

There’s a sense in which Dow’s one-hour play seems a little cramped and unambitious in its approach to its subject, which is really the whole picture of Magda’s complex life, and of how it has reached this point.

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She has an estranged daughter, Chrissie, who reappears at this moment of crisis; she has lived through a bitterly broken marriage; and she is haunted by the memory of her difficult relationship with her mother, a casualty of the 1990s war in the Balkans who was also a wonderful opera singer. There is also a running theme about the role of music, and musical genius, in the lives of all three women; and yet none of these subjects is given quite the full weight it deserves, as Dow creates something more like a poetic sketch of the situation, with added arias sung by Rosemary Nairne as Magda’s mother, than a full dramatic exploration of it.

Stuff has been put together by a brilliant theatrical team, though; and as a piece of stage poetry it has some exquisitely memorable and lyrical moments. Muriel Romanes directs, the powerful soundscape is by Philip Pinsky and the design and lighting are by John and Jeanine Byrne, who create a magical series of lit boxes that seem to conjure up the look of Magda’s post-clutter rooms, and the true remnants of her life, once all her “stuff” has gone.

Carol Ann Crawford is a wonderfully sympathetic Magda, lost and confused for a while, but still capable of returning to the real world of loving, complex relationships; and with Pauline Lockhart and Romana Abercromby offering generous, down-to-earth support as social worker and daughter, Stuff emerges as a lovely and likeable show, although a shade tantalising, in its failure to pursue some of the haunting issues it raises. - Joyce McMillan

Stuff plays in Galashiels, Hawick, Smailholm and Musselburgh this week, and then tours, with final dates at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on 6-7 November.