Traverse director Orla O’Loughlin calls Rob Drummond’s new play, Grain in the Blood – produced jointly by the Tron and Traverse – “taut and mysterious”, and it’s certainly all of that. As the story begins, we find ourselves in an archetypal farm kitchen in some isolated valley, where Sophia presides over a household that includes fragile 12-year-old granddaughter Autumn, and “Auntie Violet”, a glamorous young woman who is the sister of Autumn’s dead mother.
Grain In The Blood ***
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
One Thinks Of It All As A Dream ****
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Where The Crow Flies ***
Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
Sophia is being interviewed by a man called Burt, from a private prison company, about whether a prisoner can, with supervision, stay at the farm for a weekend; and once Andrew Rothney’s silent, staring Isaac arrives, with John Michie’s Burt in attendance, it soon become clear both who he is, and why Sophia believes he can save Autumn’s life.
What follows is a feast of excellent acting clinging perilously to a story that is, at times, not so much mysterious as plain baffling, as characters switch between ordinary everyday behaviour and surreal episodes that suggest they are living in another world entirely; the play is woven through with a streak of strange poetry about grain, and blood, and a mythical figure called the “grain mother”, who is treated both as a founding myth of some weight, and as superstitious gobbledygook.
There’s fine, sinister sound and music by Michael John McCarthy, and a trio of memorable performances from Blythe Duff as Sophia, Frances Thorburn as Violet, and a touching Sarah Miele as Autumn. Whether the play they are delivering is a thriller, a pastiche, a pitch-black comedy or a mythical tragedy, though, is hard to tell; since Grain In The Blood doesn’t so much contain and transcend genres, as move indecisively between them for a gripping, yet unsatisfying, 90 minutes
There’s a much clearer sense of style in Alan Bissett’s new Play, Pie And Pint show One Thinks Of It All As A Dream, presented as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts And Film Festival. The play’s subject is the troubled life of original Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett, an English creative genius whose fragile psyche collapsed under the pressure of the band’s early fame.
Bissett’s approach to the story has a subjective, op-art feel, as if he were sketching out the narrative in splashes of colour and incident, chronological, but also episodic, unpredictable, unevenly-spaced. It’s a perfectly-judged vehicle for the sad narrative of Barrett’s glittering genius, his breakdown, and his rapid estrangement from the band he co-created with his friend Roger Waters. And Sacha Kyle’s production features a series of performances – from Euan Cuthbertson as Syd and Andrew John Tait as Waters, with Ewan Petrie and David James Kirkwood – so impressive that this 55-minute show is a brief but complete immersion in Sixties culture, with its sense of infinite possibility.
There’s no brilliance or glamour in the lives of the two women in Lisa Nicoll’s new play Where The Crow Flies, from InMotion Theatre; yet they, too, face unrelenting, sometimes intolerable pressure. Carrie is a young mum struggling to cope with her baby while her partner is in prison. New neighbour Emily, by contrast, seems sunny and helpful; but if Carrie’s acute suspicion of Emily is unjustified there is still something strange about Emily’s solitary life, and the prolonged absence of her much-loved daughter.
The working out of the tension between the two women is sometimes confusing, sometimes a shade predictable. The play makes space, though, for beautifully-pitched performances from Keira Lucchesi as Carrie, and the wonderful Angela Darcy as Emily; and the fact that it is based on true stories of women’s lives gathered by Nicoll from communities in West Lothian gives the story a passionate, grounded quality, and offers a real sense of tragedy, along with Nicoll’s aspiration to create a show about starting over, gaining trust, and resisting the labels that life so cruelly pins on us.
*Grain In The Blood is at the Tron, Glasgow, until 29 October, and at the Traverse, Edinburgh, 1-12 November. One Thinks Of It All As A Dream is at the Traverse, Edinburgh, 25-29 October. Where The Crow Flies is at Bathgate Regal on 25 October, and on tour until 3 November.