Theatre Uncut commissions playwrights to respond to current events, then make the resulting plays available online so that anyone can perform them. The result is a vast number of international performances, and the production at Summerhall brings six of the most successful together. Aside from being the most successful, and all six being explicitly political, there’s no unifying theme behind them all - they all stem from different events, take different approaches and use different methods.
The company understand the importance of a gentle touch in staging.
In some cases, this produces a particularly discordant effect. In The Beginning by Neil LaBute is a particularly infuriating play about the effectiveness of the Occupy movement and protest in general. It is a woefully one-sided conversation between a protester and her father – he gets all the good lines, she flip flops on her principles in every speech. The actors, Paul Cunningham and Tessa Parr, make what they can of it, but the balance of the political and personal is uneven and it never really works. Moreover, it is followed by a play about the Gezi Park protests, within which no questions are asked about the futility or vice versa of protest. It seems a poor combination.
High Vis is a strong opener, a monologue on caring for a severely disabled child delivered with an upbeat sense of humour by Lesley Hart. It dwells subtly upon the idea of different kinds of expertise and voices going unheard, but again, the strengths of one play highlights weaknesses in another: Smoke (and Mirrors), the Gezi Park play, explicitly uses fictional voices, and fails to explain how fictionalised truth gives voice to the actual protesters.
Close, the final piece I saw, felt the most out of place. In an array of international stories, a play about walking the streets of Edinburgh in the aftermath of the Indyref felt too familiar, with little of the usually oppositional nature of political theatre. Still, Cunningham showed himself to be an actor of tremendous range.
The company understands the importance of a gentle touch in staging. They use the round space to their advantage, and their use of tech, in voiceovers and lighting, is always just so – never overwhelming. At every point, how to make the material speak for itself has clearly been considered, even if that work is flawed.
The strongest piece, The Most Horrific, offers several layers of meaning in its examination of the media, in contrast to some of the starker pieces. It also has the most abstract staging, and requires the most attention. It drew a lot more interest in the post-show discussion, which is a vital part of the experience. The audience, at ten in the morning, was naturally self-selecting, but the questions and explanations often seemed to bring people closer to new political action than the plays could alone.