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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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Monday, September 17, 2012

My Shrinking Life, theatre review

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.

The distancing is deliberate. In 2001, Peebles was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and, although she has maintained a steady workload as performer and director in the intervening decade, she knows it is only a matter of time before she'll need more than crutches to get around. The wheelchair that sits at the back of the stage is an ominous portent.

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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