Mary Woodward Review

Mona Pearson: Celestial Body, Traverse Theatre, Review:

Presented as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint

*** (3 stars)

This is a play about dis-ease, discomfort, and deception.  

Laura has just moved into a new house, and as she unpacks her belongings she listens to the dreamy, vague tones of an astrologer talking her through several expensive minutes of preamble on her mobile before telling her nothing very much about what her immediate future holds.  Loud thumping music from next door temporarily distracts her before Laura dials another astrologer and the whole ‘message from an astral plane’ malarkey begins again.

In a gym, an enviably fit-looking Hamish is demonstrating the ease with which he can do warm-up exercises and weights.  An ill-at-ease and decidedly weedy Bruce tries to copy him without much success.  He asks Hamish for help but is brushed off several times before Hamish launches into a grand spiel about the importance of motivation, dedication, and effort.  Bruce bursts into tears and reveals that his wife is about to leave him and he is desperate to improve his physique so she won’t go.

Back at Laura’s, the astrologer’s still whispering in her ear while she busily bangs at something under the worktop.  The doorbell goes, and Hamish comes in to fix the washing machine.  A very one-sided and stilted conversation ensues – is Laura coming on to him?  Hamish even rejects a proffered custard tart, claiming to have an egg phobia.

At the gym, Bruce is demonstrating masterful ineptitude with a step.  When Hamish appears, Bruce is eager to engage his attention – is he coming on to Hamish?  Bruce suggests going for a drink after the gym; Hamish reluctantly agrees.

What is behind these awkward attempts to attract/ engage Hamish?  To whom will he respond?  Will the celestial bodies in the heavens turn out to be of greater importance than the “magnificent vessel” that Hamish feels his body to be?

I don’t want to give the game away: suffice it to say I didn’t see the end coming.  I’d spent some time wondering whether the awkward atmosphere came from the actors, the script, or the production – it seems it was intentional and well-done.  The dénouement was unexpected, and to some might seem mildly amusing – I found it ingenious but not very credible: perhaps a tighter script and a faster pacing might have given it more impact?  I also became confused with the conflicting ‘astral voices’ – they can’t all have been coming through Laura’s phone at the same time: if one was in her head, might it have been presented in some other way?

There were some splendid cakes [though I may avoid red velvet cake in future] and the three actors – Neshla Caplan [Laura], Ross Man [Bruce] and Samuel Pashby [Hamish] engaged our attention if not always our sympathies.  It was grand to be back in the Traverse, and the socially-distanced audience were keen to show their appreciation of being back at a live performance.  The pint was a welcome post-show reviver: the pie, however, was disappointing.

Morna Pearson: Celestial Body as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Run ends Sat September 25th

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