Propeller is a play which relates a small town’s struggle to reinstate a railway line, in order to make a much wider statement on the merits and masquerade of social action. A story delivered by the Network Ensemble, it feels local, but sits on your wider political reasoning long after you have seen it. Thematically and formally, the play countenances double-images and double-meanings throughout – it is both a call to arms for social reform, as well as a criticism of those who define themselves by it. The messaging of the play lands firmly, and although some moments can seem didactic or on-the-nose, the process of political mobilisation often is didactic and on-the-nose.

Although political action is praised, the script of Propeller delivers a mischievous backhand.

The Network Ensemble are a cast established by the Scottish Drama Training Network and Pleasance Futures for emerging Scottish talent. The ensemble do themselves proud, and there are some stand out performances. The show is at its strongest when all cast members are on stage, and considerable praise should be given to movement director Estlin Love for several polished and extremely effective ensemble set-pieces. In these, the eight cast members move with regimented precision around the stage. These sequences largely centre around the individual’s desire for enfranchisement and expediency, and Love turns chairs into particularly tactile props that denote a wish to always have a seat at the table. In these sequences, Poppy Smith (who plays Clare, and who also co-wrote the script), showed particularly intense focus and performed with natural gravity.

Caitlin Skinner’s direction ensures that scenes are well-paced. A script with lots of interruptions and few beat pauses, combined with a large cast, could be a recipe for chaos. However, Skinner winds the play tightly to her own rhythm, which largely works. Some scenes feel like they go on for a little too long, and sometimes action between one or two members of the ensemble takes place for long periods at the edge of the stage. Although this may be a comment on grass-roots political movements often being treated by policy makers as peripheral, it may be still be effective to allow smaller scenes full use of the Pleasance space.

Propeller is worth seeing and interrogating afterwards, because it is subconsciously quite alarming. Although political action is wholly praised, and the audience is provided with several examples of successful examples, the script delivers a mischievous backhand. A few of the characters in Propeller reveal themselves to be emotional frauds as they attempt to join in – they are self-serving politicos, who espouse ideals of community, and yet will only participate if it serves their own image. Liberals and conservatives reveal themselves to have this trait. Here, Smith’s character Clare comes out on top – Propeller seems to argue that public service and reform is best approached with a kind of bulletproof pragmatism, which will wave the flag, but only for as long as it has to.

The Network Ensemble have delivered a strong play, with a dynamic and tantalising message. The script is clever and the ensemble do it justice.

Reviews by Skot Wilson

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The Blurb

So you want to change the world? Really? You? You Instagram checking, avo-smashing, coconut-flat-white sipping loser? Yeah, the world sucks sometimes – OK, a lot. But you can't do anything about it. Can you? This show says yes, yes you can. Maybe. If you ever feel frustrated about the way things are but don't know what to do about it, this is the show for you. A devised piece about power and the possibility of change, directed by double Fringe First winner Caitlin Skinner and co-created by The Network Ensemble.

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