IMAGINE a bedbound Peer Gynt. That's what Ann Louise Ross brings to mind playing Catherine Miller in Stuart Paterson's free-form poem of a play. It's about a woman stopped in her tracks by a stroke and cast on an epic journey that, due to the disorientation of her condition, blurs the boundaries of past and present, fact and fantasy.
Plays about people at the end of their life often run into the problem of inertia. When all the conflict is in the past, it's hard for the playwright to build momentum. Here, the boss of a road-haulage business may be in a hospital, half paralysed and frequently unable to speak, but like the road that divides the audience in Lisa Sangster's purpose-built set, she still has places to go before she relinquishes control.
Equally, although Cars and Boys appears to be going somewhere, it's not always certain where. Miller is on a quest for resolution, and her head is full of loose ends: lost loves from the 1950s, her grandson's sex life, theScottish independence debate, the future of her business. The confusion is part of the point, but it's hard to know if these disconnected stories have some greater significance.
Paterson's lyricism, playfulness and vigour ward off the impulse to be maudlin or nostalgic. Accompanied by Greg Sinclair's live cello in Philip Howard's good-looking production, it is a dreamlike piece of theatre, more evocation than drama, that never ceases to grip.
No small credit for this must go to Ross, whose hard-as-nails performance reveals a woman who won't easily be dragged down by the ghostly visitations from the past, nor by the attempts of family and staff to stop her being so wilfully herself. As her character ails, Ross remains a dynamic theatrical force.