Published in the Guardian
NTS, three stars
Alison Peebles is one of Scottish theatre's most striking figures. With high cheekbones, feline eyes and a confident swagger, she has a winning combination of wit, intelligence and glamour. As it happens, she describes herself in similar terms in My Shrinking Life – except in this National Theatre of Scotland production, it's in the past tense. It comes out as a eulogy.
Directed by Lies Pauwels, the show is a collage of the actor's responses to disability and a reflection on what it means to play a part in which she was unwillingly cast. As Peebles says, it's "not really dramatic, but adventurous"; a non-linear series of scenes that juxtapose her stumbling, asymmetrical walk with the leaps and pirouettes of three beautiful young dancers, while presenting her as a latter-day Arkadina from Chekhov's The Seagull, a supposedly famous actor finding it impossible to square the romance of the stage with the reality of disability.
Peebles is on excellent form through all this, ranging from dry and ironic to belligerent and angry, and always too proud to ask for our sympathy. She'd rather the challenge of crossing the stage in high heels than admit defeat and, if there's something unresolved about this patchwork production, it is very like the uncertainty of a woman not yet ready to make the transition from the spotlight to whatever lies off stage.
© Mark Fisher, 2012
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