Theatre review: Play on Words

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Word games become a kind of tyranny in this clever new play by Niall Carmody being staged by Tiger’s Eye, a young company from Limerick, Ireland. Harper (Johanna O’Brien) and Collins (Eleanor O’Brien) are lexicographers held hostage in a cell strewn with Scrabble tiles.

C royale (Venue 6)


With nothing but a slop bucket (“Gerri”) for company, and nothing to do except Countdown-style word games, their survival seems to depend on reaching a daily quota of words, their freedom on cracking an elusive “definition”.

While their situation is surreal, it is so convincingly conveyed by the two actors, with the assistance of Patrick Flannery, the minion who arrives with the day’s dose of alphabet soup, that we know better than to question it.

There is some debt to Beckett in the way in which their quick-fire exchanges mask a dark reality of imprisonment and hunger which has persisted for no one knows how long.

The odd nature of the situation ceases to be important because we care about the characters, as they evidently care about themselves and each other.

While the sinister MW Corporation seems intent on changing the rules to keep them where they are, there might yet be a way for humanity to defy the tyrannical power.

Play on Words, directed by Shane Hickey-O’Mara, is a surprise find in a small and stiflingly hot basement theatre. At its heart is a lively, innovative piece of writing and a pair of strong performances.

It’s a reflection on the nature of work, frustrating yet compelling, both the punishment and the thing which makes the punishment bearable. And it reminds us of the difficulty of pinning words down, and the potential gulf between a word itself and what it really means.

Until 28 August. Today 9:30pm.