In one sense this latest production from Edinburgh-based Blazing Hyena Theatre Company is nothing more than a theatrical game in which writer Jack Elliot creates a succession of clearly outlined characters and throws them one by one into the pressure cooker of a single room to see how they bounce off each other. However, even if you adopt such a mechanistic view, the result is undoubtedly sharp, funny, and all-too-believable – with an energy that’s never allowed to slump, not least thanks to the staggered introductions that keeps changing the mix of players “in the room”.
Overall, though, this is an energetically-delivered production of a tightly written script
Seven of the play’s 10 characters are biologically related, the titular cousins (including two pairs of siblings), with their life-long gripes and rivalries. (The remaining three characters are the partner of one cousin, and two “plus ones” whose unexpected presence ratchets up the tension.) Director Catherine Expósito expertly handles this large ensemble cast – a distinctive hallmark of the company’s productions – making full use of the venue’s space, and keeping things uncluttered and easily understood.
With the characters all stuck in their Gran’s front room on the day of her funeral, Elliot’s script is grounded in the subtle – and not-so-subtle – power-struggles you find within most families. As a writer, though, he isn’t afraid to push his more gratuitous misunderstandings towards – and arguably beyond – their comedic limits. For example; uptight PE student Dana (a believably defensive character from Rosie Milne) is accompanied by her “best friend” Rachel. It’s immediately clear that Rachel is the partner of the not-yet-out-as-a-lesbian Dana. (Kate Foley-Scott, incidentally, makes the most of Rachel, willing to hide in general company but nevertheless ready to physically defend the woman she loves.) The joke, though, comes from the cack-handed attempt by youngest cousin Teddy (Nathan Dunn) to chat Rachel up, which leads to him naively pretending he’s a regular at her favourite bar, “CC’s”. Once the penny drops that this is, in fact, CC Blooms – one of Edinburgh’s oldest gay bars – Teddy grabs every subsequent opportunity to insist that he’s not gay. This is a running joke that arguably becomes tiresome very quickly, unless you choose to believe that, in fact, “he doth protest too much” and just actually might be.
Unlike previous production One, Two, Three, Yippee! – which was formatted as a narrative being told to the audience – For the Love of Cousins isn’t particularly helped by its Art College bar venue; it’s simply distracting when cast-members bleed into an audience sat on the array of seats, sofas and stools dotted around the main performance area. Overall, though, this is an energetically-delivered production of a tightly written script – and the strongest indication yet of a young theatre company with an increasingly distinctive voice and definitely something to say.