Theatre reviews: Scent of Roses | I’m Dissolving My Love In A Bath Of Acid

In her new play Scent of Roses, Zinnie Harris presents five characters perched on a knife-edge between survival and despair as the world around them spirals into full-blown climate collapse, writes Joyce McMillan

Leah Byrne and Saskia Ashdown in The Scent of Roses by Zinnie Harris PIC: Tim Morozzo
Leah Byrne and Saskia Ashdown in The Scent of Roses by Zinnie Harris PIC: Tim Morozzo

The Scent Of Roses, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh ****

I’m Dissolving My Love In A Bath Of Acid, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

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Television drama is currently suffering from a surfeit of series triggered by the earth-shattering discovery of infidelity in a middle class marriage. None of the writers involved, though, does it quite like the astonishing Zinnie Harris, who – in her new play The Scent Of Roses, which opens the spring season at the Lyceum – uses her opening scene, in which a woman takes her faithless husband hostage in order to force an honest conversation with him, as the springboard for a dazzling La Ronde-type sequence of six linked conversations, escalating towards an all-too-credible pre-apocalyptic image of a world without truth, spiralling helplessly into full-blown climate collapse.

The five characters who carry this tale are all superb creations, each perched on a knife-edge between survival and despair. Luci and Christopher, the opening couple – played in fine style by Neve McIntosh and Peter Forbes – are both exhausted by a marriage built on half-truths and concealment. Their daughter Caitlin, played with hair-raising force by Leah Byrne, is a frighteningly shambolic product of the age of false narratives, inventing new realities at will.

Clutching a dead bird she claims to have killed – although birds often fall dead from the sky, in the extreme Scottish heatwave that pervades the play – Caitlin confronts a troubled and complicated Saskia Ashdown as Sally, her former schoolteacher, who has a severe alcohol problem, and a fatal attraction to her ex-pupil. Sally, in turn, throws herself on the mercy of her mother Helen, who leads school projects on environmental education while knowing it’s too late.

Helen, played with great wit and presence by Maureen Beattie, is probably the most grounded and cheerfully ironic of the five characters; she also happens – as the circle closes – to be Christopher’s long-term lover. Harris’s direction is as powerful and pointed as her writing, Tom Piper’s big set is a tour de force of shifting spaces, dazzlingly lit by Ben Ormerod; and taken as a whole, the play presents an image of five characters on the edge of extinction that’s as poignant as it is disturbing, and also – in that inimitable human way – sometimes very funny, even in the face of denial and disaster.

DC Jackson’s new Play, Pie and Pint drama, by contrast, takes a bracingly short and absurdist view of human nature and its pretensions. I’m Dissolving My Love In A Bath Of Acid is Jackson’s first stage play in eight years, a brief and hilarious pitch-dark comedy about April – who has married a serial killer during his prison sentence, and is now intending to live with him following his unexpected release – and her sister and flatmate May, who is not too happy about this arrangement.

The serial killer, David-John, turns out to be the mildest of men, anxious to put his murderous “bad patch” behind him; but April, herself no mean psychopath, has other ideas, and in no time the stage is knee-deep in acid baths and dissolved human remains. Laced throughout with Jackson’s inimitable brand of verbal wit, the play is delivered with huge panache by Alison O’Donnell, Irene Allan, and the inimitable Grant O’Rourke; in a production by ex-Lyceum director Mark Thomson that fairly sizzles with comic energy from start to finish, and acts as a powerful corrosive antidote both to self-pity, and to despair.

The Scent Of Roses is at the Lyceum, Edinburgh, until 19 March. I’m Dissolving My Love In A Bath Of Acid is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 12 March, and the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, from 15-19 March

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