Published in the Guardian
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
YOU KNOW know when you’re given a Christmas present, and you smile gratefully even though it’s misshapen, not to your taste and you’re not sure what it actually is? That’s what Orla O’Loughlin’s production of this comedy by Iain Finlay Macleod is like. The Devil Masters seems well intentioned, but it is hard to know what to do with it.
The scene is in an Edinburgh New Town living room – realised in stiflingly naturalistic detail by Anthony Lamble – where the Christmas Eve preparations of two dog-loving advocates are interrupted by an intruder with designs on their Skye terrier. One kidnap, attempted robbery and assault later, the tables are turned and the lawyers take charge. By the end, the tables have turned twice more.
It is not that Macleod is short of ideas. Has he written a class-conscious subversion of the drawing-room comedy? A Tarantino-esque vision of dog-eat-dog status games? A commentary on the slippery surfaces of language and identity, like his own excellent Somersaults? A tribute to the surrealism of Edward Albee’s Seascape? A Jekyll-and-Hyde satire on the division between Edinburgh’s haves and have-nots? A howl of outrage at the power accorded to the legal profession? A spiritual condemnation of those who replace family values with self-interest?
The Devil Masters is partly all of these things, but not fully any of them. It’s like watching the rough drafts of several plays at once. Sometimes one of them flashes into focus, and you find yourself laughing at some wordplay or gripped by a legal debate, but a moment later, you’re watching another play altogether.
Keith Fleming does a great job as the amorphous outsider who is psychopathic one minute and vulnerable the next, while John Bett and Barbara Rafferty play up the contradictions of the homeowners. But they are stuck in an overwrought production of curate’s egg of a play.
© Mark Fisher 2014
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