Theatre reviews: Behind The Barrier | Maraike Bruening: Summer Heart

IT'S the day of the Glasgow Marathon; and at first, the two women who meet behind the spectator barrier close to the finishing line, in Behind the Barrier, Muriel Gray's debut for A Play, A Pie And A Pint, seem only to be exchanging ideas about what fitness and exercise has come to mean, in so many 21st century lives.

Kirsty McDuff and Alan McHugh in Breaking the Barrier. Picture: contributed
Kirsty McDuff and Alan McHugh in Breaking the Barrier. Picture: contributed

Middle-aged Julie says that her husband, Bob, is running his first marathon, for charity; highly motivated twenty-something Pat is seething inwardly because she has been persuaded to give up her place to a visually impaired colleague of her boyfriend.

As they chat, though, something deeper begins to emerge. At first, there’s the outline of a serious political debate between Pat’s fiercely individualistic, competitive worldview, and Julie’s very different priorities.

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And then, through a series of flashbacks – featuring Alan McHugh as both Bob, and Pat’s cruelly unyielding Dad – we sense something even more profound; an awareness of death that has touched both Julie’s many years of happy marriage, and Pat’s high-
powered yuppie lifestyle.

Add a sharp final twist in the tale, plenty of witty and well-written dialogue, and two outstanding performances from Hilary Lyon and Kirsty McDuff, and the result is a strikingly accomplished first play. It is conventionally structured and perhaps a shade sentimental, but immaculately directed by Morag Fullarton, and hardly making a single false step, as it reflects on love, death, and some very real tensions in 21st-century Glasgow life.

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The only physical challenge that the pianist Alice Herz-Sommer ever needed lay in the hours of practice that made her one of the leading young pianists of the age, in the Prague of the 1920s.

Yet Maraike Bruening’s new solo show Summer Heart, briefly at the Tron this week, makes it clear that that mighty talent gave her not only a successful career, but a guiding passion that helped her 
survive some of the darkest nightmares of the 20th century.

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Maraike Bruening is herself a hugely talented young pianist; and before Alice Herz-Sommer’s death in London in 2014, at the great age of 110, Bruening met her and recorded some of her wisdom, her passionate belief in the beauty and privilege of life.

The result is a 55-minute show that combines a slightly awkward but intense monologue on Alice’s early life with some truly thrilling performances of Chopin’s piano music, and touching, roughly drawn visual images, created live by Bruening using sand on the surface of a light-box.

The aim of the show, directed by Fiona Mackinnon, is to “challenge the familiar recital experience of classical music”. And although it is very brief, and often slightly tentative, this intensely moving show certainly achieves that; not least by demonstrating how the classical music tradition, like no other, links the whole epic narrative of Europe in the last 200 years – and how, at this new turning point for our continent, it can still connect us with all the beauty and terror of that narrative, in the beat of a heart.

• Behind The Barrier has one final performance today; Summer Heart, run ended.