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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Sunday, August 24, 2008

365

© Mark Fisher - published in Scotland on Sunday
National Theatre flagship fails to live up to billing



365, The Playhouse Two stars

FEW shows have opened at the Edinburgh International Festival with a greater weight of expectation.

Here was the National Theatre of Scotland, the company that brought us Black Watch, tackling another contemporary issue – the question of what happens to teenagers when they leave state care – in an equally bold theatrical style.

Staged by artistic director Vicky Featherstone, 365 is written by David Harrower, author of the internationally acclaimed Knives In Hens and Blackbird.

What’s more, the two of them were working in the seat-of-their-pants, semi-devised manner of Anthony Neilson, whose Realism and The Wonderful World Of Dissocia were major hits for the company.

No show could compete with such sublime achievements, but even taking our inflated expectations into account, 365 is a letdown.

The problem with this two-hour play is that it can’t decide what story it wants to tell.

According to the publicity, it’s about a practice flat, an intermediary home where children brought up in care can prepare for adult independence.

But we quickly realise the production doesn’t have much to say on this subject, beyond the observation that making a cup of tea is a big deal when you’ve never done it before.

Instead, the show explores the emotional vulnerability of children in care.

There are fragmented tales of abusive friendships, neurotic fire-raising and dysfunctional families, much of it rather lost on the cavernous Playhouse stage and little you couldn’t get from a slightly racier Tracy Beaker.

Surely we don’t need a play to tell us that living in care is tough.

Yet in among all this, Harrower is on to something. The author of the haunting narratives of Blackbird is fascinated by the importance of stories on our lives.

The lack of such stories, he suggests, is the greatest deprivation of children in care.

When files go missing, when memories fade, nobody is there to resolve their incomplete sense of identity.

The irony is that a play about broken narratives is itself so reluctant to tell us a story.

Trying to create an impressionistic collage, it darts about all over the place, unable to settle on one idea.

As if to compensate, Featherstone comes up with a series of theatrical tricks – from the appearance of a Hansel And Gretel forest to a room that tilts on one corner – that have more to do with expensive stagecraft than anything going on in the play.

The production dearly wants to give a voice to a silent minority, but in choosing a format that’s not quite verbatim theatre and not quite a conventional play, it fails to draw us in.

Only in the closing moments do we get a sense of its political purpose.

Suddenly countless teenagers stream onto the stage, supplementing an already large cast, to stand silhouetted against the practice flat as it snaps shut like a doll’s house.

It is a symbol of our social blindness and a brief glimpse of the play that might have been.


© Mark Fisher, 2008

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