Theatre reviews: Spin! | The Third Sister

In Catriona MacLeod’s new play Spin!, a woman in a bad relationship forms an unlikely bond with her state-of-the-art washing machine. Reviews by Joyce McMillan

Spin!, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****The Third Sister, Dundee Rep ***Two women, both in intense dialogue with someone (or something) that is not quite another human being; it’s as if, in a world suddenly awake to the transformative power of artificial intelligence, theatre is now becoming seriously preoccupied with the boundaries of the human – where we end, and something else begins.In writer and director Catriona MacLeod’s new show Spin!, co-produced by Mull Theatre (An Tobar) and Vanishing Point Unplugged for small-scale touring, our heroine Pauline at first only wants a state-of-the-art washing machine that will freshen up her dirty trainers, and treat her collection of vintage clothes to a delicate wash. She gets much more than she bargained for, though, in Max, a huge internet-enabled machine, centre-stage, that talks like a smart speaker, and can analyse every fibre and stain on her clothing with terrifying accuracy, while remembering – as few human men ever would – her every like, dislike and preference.The trouble is that Pauline is vulnerable, caught in a dead-end job and in a bad romance that is blighting her youngish life; and the electronic care and understanding Max can deliver soon becomes much too important to her, with increasingly strange consequences beautifully conjured up by Louise Haggerty as Pauline and Andrew Keay as Max, with just the right blend of weirdness, wit and poignancy.It all ends badly, of course, in a chilling 2001 A Space Odyssey moment, as Max intones: “I can’t do that, Pauline.” Yet along the way, MacLeod handles Pauline’s emotional plight with a lightness of touch and strong musical energy that makes for a gorgeous 70 minutes of theatre, while also raising some serious and disturbing questions about the watching and listening devices that increasingly pervade our lives.Xana Marwick’s brief 40-minute show The Third Sister, meanwhile, deals with a more familiar product of the human mind: the childhood imaginary friend or sibling. Produced by Solar Bear, Scotland’s leading company working with both deaf and hearing theatre artists, The Third Sister focusses at first on the solitary figure of Eilidh, a former member of an all-female punk band called Pink Mess, now about to turn 51, and picking sadly at her guitar while she broods on her past in the all-female punk band Pink Mess, and before that with the family entertainment troupe led by her tyrannical grandad.Enter Jennifer, a much younger woman; and soon the two are engaged in a passionate row – in both English and British Sign Language – over the fate of Eilidh’s beautiful younger sister Rowan, a gifted musician and drummer, who died tragically in a fall from a mountain in Spain during a tour there.Exactly what happened remains slightly unclear, in a show that would benefit hugely for audience members without BSL from surtitles translating Jennifer’s words – as it is, Jeni Draper as Eilidh has to voice both her own dialogue and Jennifer’s side of the argument, in ways that sometimes make it difficult to work out which character is speaking.What’s never in doubt, though, is the shocking intensity of the encounter, as we gradually work out who Jennifer is (or is not), how she became a “third sister” to both Eilidh and Rowan, and why she now so desperately needs to be let go, by the one remaining person holding her in thrall.Draper and Claire Wetherall deliver Marwick’s haunting story with huge vividness and passion, and we’re left at the end with a fierce sense of how love can take many complex forms, some of them conjured from nothing, by the human imagination itself.

Spin! is at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, 5 April and on tour until 14 April. The Third Sister is at Aberdeen Music Hall tomorrow and Eden Court, Inverness, 31 March.

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