STOWAWAY, The Destroyed Room, Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone at the Royal Court; on they come in great advancing waves, the productions that show us groups of comfortable westerners suddenly confronted by the cruel truth of a world full of war and chaos.
International Waters | Rating: **** | Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Prom | Rating: **** | Oran Mor, Glasgow
Yet there’s also no let-up in the terrific invention and wit that theatre-makers bring to this central theme of our time, and that’s certainly true of David Leddy’s latest play for his own Fire Exit company, International Waters.
“No refugee crisis ever looked so chic, darling”, trills the publicity, and so we find ourselves in the one comfortable passenger lounge of a huge container ship, accompanied by four members of the super-rich – the rock star, the leading journalist, the top civil servant and the trophy wife of a billionaire – who have paid silly money for tickets to escape a sudden breakdown of civilisation back in Britain.
The story of this 80-minute play, though, is about their gradual recognition that whatever power they once had is now gone, as they find themselves at the mercy of the captain, the crew, and another key player whose identity they only discover in the play’s dying moments.
The style is fierce, bursts of light and dark, and of Noel-Coward-style music and dialogue, gradually decaying into horror, as the travellers grow ill, and begin to vomit all over the once-elegant set.
Essentially, what we are seeing is a group of arrogant and self-obsessed people – captured in some brilliant ensemble playing by Lesley Hart, Selina Boyack, Claire Dargo and Robin Laing – brought low by the grinding wheels of history; and as the show moves into its surreal final moments, Danny Krass’s great sound design clanks its last, and the light (by Nich Smith) fades to black over Becky Minto’s looming metallic set, we can’t help feeling that some ending like this is almost inevitable, not only in theatre, but perhaps in the real world, too.
There’s a strange kinship between International Waters and the latest show in the Play, Pie And Pint lunchtime season – both cast a cold eye over privileged and complacent people, and hold their moral worthlessness up for inspection. Oliver Emanuel’s new play Prom, though, is set in a high school where prom culture has set in with a vengeance; where top teenagers spend their time sneering at those in less cool and popular groups, and competing fiercely for a prom-night date with the coolest boy in class.
On prom night, though, everything goes wrong for the four arrogant and beautiful youngsters in the top group, played and sung – for this is a play with songs – with terrific wit, and passion by Ryan Fletcher, Helen McKay, Martin McBride and Nicola Roy.
There’s vomit here too, in industrial quantities; and the kind of act of group cruelty that perhaps leaves as many scars on the perpetrators as on the victim. And if the canvas of this story seems small, its emotional and psychological resonances are huge; in a fine short play beautifully directed by Gareth Nicholls, and full of a blazing theatrical energy that leaves the audience feeling shaken, stirred and burned.
• International Waters is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until tonight; at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 30 March until 2 April, and on tour to Aberdeen and Stirling. Prom is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until today, then at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 29 March until 2 April