A play for naval-gazing theatre goers everywhere, Mouthpiece delivers an impactful message about exploitation and appropriation. The two-hander, from acclaimed Glaswegian writer Kieran Hurley, tugs at the heartstrings producing a shattering portrait of the underclasses that roam Edinburgh, conveniently ignored by the better-resourced residents and tourists alike.
The acting from both Macdonald and Taylor is spellbinding.
The play centres around Libby (Shauna Macdonald), a middle-aged, middle-class, has-been writer and Declan (Angus Taylor), a tender but angry 17-year old who suffers from anxiety and lives on the fringes of society with his mother and her abusive boyfriend. He was told by a social worker that drawing might help control his panic attacks and his talent is what Libby discovers after a chance meeting when he saves her from a suicide attempt off the Salisbury Crags. Despite their lives being oceans apart – in age, in class, in education - they strike up a sort of friendship over their connection to art. The friendship is lopsided, which is the point of the play, with Libby taking on managing Declan’s artistic education while simultaneously documenting his story for a play she wants to write. She knows better, and that Declan can’t consent to something he doesn’t have the life experience to comprehend, and this is where our dramatic tension plays out.
The acting from both Macdonald and Taylor is spellbinding. They have mastered their characters, fully believable in every single scene. Taylor in particular is spectacular in his emotional and physical intensity.
Mouthpiece is seriously meta-theatrical; Libby breaking the fourth to explain the cornerstones of playwriting and charting the dramatic curve punctuating the entire piece. While I enjoyed it, it seemed a cheap trick to give structure and pace while adding little of artistic or narrative importance. It is also meta in its own being, the exact thing the play chastises – appropriation of the voice of the ‘voiceless’ – is a reflection on itself. It begins to feel wearing after a while and feels like a self-chastising slap on wrist for playwrights, message first, entertainment second and unnuanced in its approach. It is terribly broad question, not answered satisfactorily by the play, and Libby’s villain-status goes unchallenged when in reality, it’s very complicated.
The play certainly has a place though, at this time in particular, when Fringe takes over the city and in a celebration of creativity and inclusion we are no more adept at noticing the many who do not enjoy the same luxuries of the creative world. It seems ironic sitting in a theatre crammed with mostly middle-aged, assumingly middle-class white people who have shelled out something close to the £15 that, in the play, Declan is asked for when he tries to go to the theatre and he finds an incomprehensibly large amount. A light is shone on that juxtaposition at least and lands an important reminder at our feet.