In Zinnie Harris’s new play Meet Me At Dawn – playing at the Traverse, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival – two women called Robyn and Helen meet on a beach after a boating accident.
The first question is “Are you OK?”, and they both seem to be, a happy couple glad to have survived; but where they are, and why they cannot get back home, and why Robyn is haunted by images of another, more terrible version of reality – all of that is mysterious; although perhaps not entirely so to those who have ever fled from extremes of grief into bargaining, fantasy or fierce imagination.
In this 85-minute symphony of loss, longing, and occasional wild comedy, Harris treads into notoriously dangerous territory, playing a high-stakes theatrical game with the things human beings fear most, risking the odd false note and moment of bathos.
In Orla O’O’Loughlin’s pitch-perfect Traverse production, though, the play emerges unscathed from these pitfalls – short, tense, beautiful, gripping, and almost perfectly shaped. Neve McIntosh as Robyn and Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Helen deliver two exquisite performances, their faces etched in fear, desolation and intense, every-day love; and they are supported every inch of the way by Fred Meller’s understated island design, Simon Wilkinson’s lighting, and Danny Krass’s impeccable soundscape.
The play was inspired, in part, by the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, of the ancient underworld quest for the lost partner. Yet its literary echoes run wide and deep, from Barrie’s Mary Rose and Sartre’s Huis Clos to the famous opening of Twelfth Night. And when Robyn asks “What country, friends, is this?”, the answer is that it is an emotional landscape of Harris’s own making; in a 21st century classic full of its own passionate poetry, its own love, and its own despair.
Until 27 August. Tomorrow 10pm.