Julie tells her husband why her willow-pattern teacup meant so much to her. He sees only broken crockery. Online, Lin Han pours out her heart to a business contact. He thinks she is just being friendly. In an interrogation room, Madeleine declares her lust for a police officer: only the tape recorder hears her.
Being unheard, the three women feel unloved. They long to be understood, but the men in their lives are distracted, puzzled and uncomprehending. Their world will be out of joint until someone gets what they're on about.
That is why Rona Munro's Pandas is not the play it pretends to be. It may seem to be the tale of a foiled scheme to evade customs duty on imported Chinese rugs, but that's a smoke screen. Despite fake designer goods, revenge shooting and an Edinburgh setting, we're not in an episode of Rebus.
No, the spirit of the play is less Ian Rankin than Richard Curtis. It is a romcom in which the women go from isolation to partnership, misunderstanding to communication, loneliness to love. Written by the Oranges and Sunshine screenwriter, whose Little Eagles plays at Hampstead this week, it's a knowingly whimsical play that pleases with its sense of neat resolution.
Directed by Rebecca Gatward and strongly performed on a too-literal set by Liz Cooke, Pandas sometimes remains earthbound, overly concerned with the domestic relationships and not enough about the metaphor its Chinese theme suggests. But there are times, too, when it simply soars, not least in Meg Fraser's sublime performance as Madeleine, an entomologist in search of endangered fleas on endangered pandas and seeming like an endangered species herself. Singular, eccentric and very funny, she steals the feelgood show.
© Mark Fisher 2011
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