The engines have failed, nothing more can be done, and the plane is plummeting towards destruction; but meanwhile, there are these three minutes left in which we can still feel, and think, and talk to one another, and even write poetry.
Enough, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh ****
Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, Traverse Theatre Edinburgh ****
Until The Flood, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh *****
The sense of a civilisation playing out its sudden end-game, at ever-increasing speed, is present in all three shows that launch this year’s superb programme in the small space of Traverse 2; and nowhere more powerfully than in the image of two immaculately-dressed female flight attendants gradually crumbling in a failing world, that lies at the centre of Stef Smith’s terrific and terrifying new stage poem for two actors, Enough.
Brilliantly performed by Louise Ludgate as Jane and Amanda Wright as Toni, Enough revolves not only around the image of an aircraft plunging to destruction, but – even more insistently – around a sense of earthquake and instability, as the beloved home Jane shares with her husband and children succumbs to subsidence, and Toni is tormented, from city to city, by a deep sense of tremor in the earth beneath her.
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Yet there’s also huge lightness, humour and energy in Smith’s writing, as she sends up the once-magical role of “air hostesses” as global symbols of modernity, freedom, flight, and sex; and as she explores the profound love between two women who may not be partners, but are still drawn to one another in ways often too complicated to express, except by getting roaring drunk together in cities across the world. And if Bryony Shanahan’s otherwise pitch-perfect production falters slightly in pace and focus just before the end, it’s perhaps because Smith herself cannot quite tie up the loose ends of a play full of resonant half-finished sentences. “Have you seen the news? Terrible. What can we…” and “It’s as if the whole of history…”
That sense of the whole of history is also thrillingly present in Javaad Alipoor’s new show Rich Kids: A History Of Shopping Malls In Tehran, co-created with Kirsty Housley.
Produced by HOME Manchester in association with the Traverse, Rich Kids also revolves around an image of something hurtling towards destruction; but in this case the primary image, conveyed through the show’s Instagram account which we’re all invited to join, as well as on the shifting screens that dominate the stage, is of the crushed and mangled yellow Porsche in which the wealthy son of one of Iran’s revolutionary leaders, and the middle-class girl with whom he has been cheating on his fianceé, meet their deaths during a wild night in Tehran.
Behind the story of Hossein and his girlfriend, though, lies the whole accelerating arc of modern and post-modern global history, as Iran emerges into modernity as a rich source of oil exploited by the west, then rises up in revolution against that western domination, and then spawns a revolutionary elite whose children can and do enter a hyper-homogenised global shopping culture, and live the western consumer dream.
Throughout, both Alipoor and his co-performer Peyvand Sadeghian handle the complex technological elements of the show with style and seriousness, while weaving a hugely challenging web of thoughts and ideas about the hyper-connected world we now inhabit, and how the current era in human history might look from the multi-millennial perspective offered by the archaeological record of Persia/Iran.
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And if a little more time is needed at the outset to ensure that audience members are all connected and ready, there is, in the end, more than enough rich information conveyed through the performance itself to lead us through a story that begins with a single human tragedy, but rapidly expands to create a powerful non-western perspective on a global civilisation beginning, like that Porsche, to spin out of control.
The focus is much tighter, in the latest show by magnificent New York writer and performer Dael Orlandersmith. In Until The Flood, her subject is the 2014 killing of young black man Michael Brown by a young white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, which helped inspire the Black Lives Matter movement, and exposed bitter and frightening racial fault-lines in American society, where once those divisions were thought to be healing.
In a searing and immaculate 75 minutes of solo theatre, with the help of powerful visual images by Nicholas Hussong, Orlandersmith creates a series of seven characters, each with a different perspective. They range from retired black schoolteacher Louisa who remembers the whole history of the civil rights struggle, through two young black teenagers struggling for survival and escape, to the wise Ferguson barber-shop owner Reuben, and the terrifying Dougray, who morphs before our eyes from admirable white working-class success-story to full-blown white supremacist, declaring that these day, when he watches Schindler’s List, it’s with the Nazi that he identifies.
Yet even in this brilliantly and superbly-performed anatomy of the multiple meanings of a single incident, the sense of something spinning out of control is palpable. Towards the end, Orlandersmith walks away from her characters, and gives us some closing words in her own voice. “Has the wake-up call been answered and deleted?” she asks, suggesting that we may find out, very soon
Until 25 August