Finding love on a laptop

Gorgeous Avatar, Traverse Theatre ****

SURREAL and poignant by turns, Jules Horne's ambitious new play for the Traverse is a story of laptop love and internet dating set in a rural Scottish community.

Amy lives in the sort of country hideaway which many would call an idyll. A refugee from city life, she has used the accessories of the modern age to allow her to escape from the urban rat race.

The only people she sees are her neighbours: Rose, renovating her dead mother's cottage next door and desperate to get a television company to film - and fund - her makeover; and Dan, who has returned to the holiday home of his childhood to try and dry out from his drug addiction.

It is a world of gentle insanity. Pauline Knowles creates a mildly eccentric figure in Amy, talking to herself as she potters around tidying up her cottage - and not finishing the advert she is working on for the Parisian tourist board. She is quite the embodiment of an online home-worker.

Una McLean and Patrick Hoffman create much more extrovert characters as Rose and Dan. McLean is particularly brilliant as Rose. She is attempting to make a year's worth of a video diary for the TV company - in only one day.

Hoffman's Dan is a man who is only just holding things together as he films Rose and helps her recreate the different seasons to make it more authentic.

Director Philip Howard creates this strange domestic scene without letting it to drift into soap opera territory.

He is helped by an ingenious set that creates both the inside of Amy's cottage and, with the use of large video projections behind it, hints at the gently changing beauty of what lies beyond.

Key to the success of the whole production, however, is Amy's kitchen window.

At first it seems to be merely another video, shot in real time, of the day passing in the world outside.

As subtle and unexpected changes occur, you begin to realise that it affords a glimpse into what is going on in Amy's mind.

But if what is going on in there is pretty, it most certainly is not sane. Amy's long-term internet lover, Rafi, is about to arrive from America.

And as the first act of the play progresses, you realise that far from being their first meeting in the flesh, the progression of bizarre characters created by John Kazek are all in her imagination.

This is, for all its serious subject, hilarious theatre.

And Howard is brave enough to open it right out until it almost becomes Music Hall in its approach. Yet, as the second act slips back into reality, he allows the script to take over again.

Amy and Rafi's meeting becomes not just an expression of computer-age love, but their virtual world is a metaphor for any relationship which two people can hope to have with each other.

It is a quite extraordinarily powerful piece of theatre.

Yet it is not without its difficulties. Not the least being that attention is never brought to the key video window. And the text sets up a few too many little asides which never get resolved.

That said, for four superb performances, particularly from Una McLean, and a hugely innovative piece of staging, this is a must-see production.

Run ends tomorrow