the gifts bestowed on the world by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the
one-hour slot, into which everything—stand-up, spoken word, circus, dance or
drama—has become squeezed by market forces. Nevertheless, the obvious
constraints are something which talented writers can utilise well. While David
Full of brilliantly crafted dialogue that’s funny, sad and often both
Out from behind the audience stagger charity boss Celia (Irene Allan), a dark-haired “woman in red”, with her three-piece suited co-worker Oliver (Mark Jeary). They’re both high on champagne and their mutual horror concerning the couple with whom they’ve just had dinner—his dead eyes, her gratuitous jewellery and tendency to play with her phone during the meal. This initially comes across as just the bitchiness of a “tired” woman and her gay best friend, but the first layer that’s peeled away is the identity of their host—an unnamed “developing” country’s vicious dictator who wants their charity to provide computers and software. (Oh, and to give him an Award.) Celia’s all to aware that the aid will be used to line the pockets of the dictator and his cronies, and destroy the charity’s reputation in the process; their problem is that said dictator is unlikely to take “No” for an answer.
Celia and Oliver are therefore in her hotel room, supposedly to touch base with the charity’s (somewhat corrupt) board of directors but actually to work out some way to escape the hotel alive. Their options aren’t good, and the conversation quickly turns to more personal matters as a means of ignoring the dictator and his vicious-looking bodyguards waiting for them in the lobby. And so we learn that neither Celia or Oliver have been particularly successful in love: Celia’s commitment to the charity has cost her a marriage and a relationship with her daughter, and she now eats far too many microwaved meals while doubting her own abilities; Oliver’s male partner, meantime, has returned to Brazil, unable to accept that Oliver is actually deeply in love with Celia.
Full of brilliantly crafted dialogue that’s funny, sad and often both, Leddy (here directing his own script) gets two heart-felt, nuanced performances from Allan and Jeary, who never let the pace drop and yet give the necessary emotional pauses just the right time to sink in. The overall result is an emotionally intelligent exploration of the challenges we all face when it comes to finding genuine human connection in a world where all the old rules about gender, sexuality and even boss-employee relations are increasingly difficult to grasp. If this doesn’t quite connect with the wider geopolitical aspects of international aid, the human story is sufficiently satisfying, not least because Leddy’s ensures a finale which at least hints at the possibility of two people finally escaping the social pressures and public expectations that have kept them apart for so long.