by Rona Munro.
Traverse Theatre (Traverse 1) Cambridge Street EH1 2ED To 7 May 2011.
Tue-Sun 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0131 228 1404.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 April.
The difficulties of love in a small world brought inventively together.
However few dramatic themes and storylines there are, there’s always space to re-work them in the light of contemporary experience and modern performance styles. So it is with the Scottish play among Rona Munro’s scripts this spring (her Little Eagles has landed simultaneously in Hampstead, while her screenplay for Oranges and Sunshine might have come to a screen not far from you).
Pandas focuses passionate experiences within three couples whose lives intertwine in Edinburgh. Love and desire and, to a lesser extent, hate are the driving forces, while a crime story of the import-export kind hovers around as a vehicle for the action.
Munro presents enough information about relationships upfront to hold interest, while holding more back to fill in the gaps when she’s ready to reveal her whole picture. It keeps audiences on their toes (or towards the edge of their seats) rather than complacently in command of the entire situation. Why does a man come home in a jacket stained with brains? What’s in the packing-cases all round the room? And that’s just from the first minute.
Gangland may be nearby, but the play’s one pot-shot doesn’t come from there. And the shooter turns out to have been provoked beyond endurance by physical repulsion after holding back for ages despite a partner’s behaviour.
Widening the frame are Lin Han, whose assertive manner on blind-date with Jie Hui, develops later significance. Designer Liz Cooke shows Edinburgh’s Meadows in full springtime cherry blossom splendour for their first, edgy meeting. The beautiful and the abrasive co-exist essentially in the play. Love seems a precarious and rare achievement amid life’s busy succession of necessity and desire.
As rare as pandas mating are the confessions of love; the most extreme, in the course of which Meg Fraser’s angry Madeleine spreadeagles, and almost prostrates, herself, is made solo through a microphone in a police interview-room. Love might dare to speak its name, but finds it easier to formulate and express itself obliquely.
Rebecca Gatward’s finely-acted production displays all this in the appropriately overt style of lives displayed theatrically, rather than revealed in close-up actuality.
Andy: Keith Fleming.
Madeleine: Meg Fraser.
Jie Hui: Siu Hun Li.
Julie: Vicki Liddelle.
James: Phil McKee.
Lin Han: Crystal Yu.
Director: Rebecca Gatward.
Designer: Liz Cooke.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Sound: John Harris.
Dramaturg: Katherine Mendelsohn.
Assistant director: David Betz-Heinemann.