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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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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cockroach review

© Mark Fisher - published in the Guardian

Traverse, Edinburgh
3 out of 5

No one could accuse Sam Holcroft of lacking ambition. Her full-length debut is an attempt to marry Darwin's theory of evolution to the male propensity for war, suggesting that the violence in our society, from rape to genital mutilation, is a consequence of our preprogrammed need to ensure the survival of the fittest. What starts off like a routine episode of Grange Hill mutates into a radical feminist answer to Lord of the Flies. Although erratically structured, it features one image of such disturbing intensity that Holcroft has to be taken seriously as a compelling theatrical voice.

Kicking off a series of four plays by first-time writers in a joint venture between the Traverse and the National Theatre of Scotland, Cockroach is set in a secondary school biology lab where the usual teenage love tussles are intensified by an ever-decreasing pool of boys. While Meg Fraser's enthusiastic teacher instructs the unruly pupils in the principles of natural selection, the boys are being called up to fight in some unspecified conflict. The more the girls are left behind, the more they are driven by the urge to reproduce.

Looking increasingly like some separatist society, the girls evoke the "founder effect", the theory that a small population increases the likelihood of genetic mutation. Holcroft's position is unclear, but she at least entertains the idea that war provides a necessary cull of male aggression, paving the way for some non-violent future.

It's a reductive view of human behaviour and, as the play lurches from classroom realism to battlefield fantasy, not an entirely coherent one. But the play's central image, in which the girls clean the torn and bloodied uniforms of dead soldiers, is hauntingly powerful, and the excellent performances reinforce the impression of a playwright brave enough to do battle with the big ideas.

© Mark Fisher, 2008

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