The Letter of Last Resort and Good With People

Traverse has presented the most elegant of double bills for the Fringe by showcasing two of Scotland’s prized playwrights, David Greig and David Harrower.

Both of the plays talk politics and are set when a low level nuclear threat looms overhead. In the Letter of Last Resort, the new prime minister is faced with writing a letter that should only be opened in the circumstances of Britain being destroyed by a nuclear attack. When the only safe place on Earth is under the sea, the PM struggles to put pen to paper. Good with People uproots us from Downing Street to Helensburgh, home to the Nuclear defence programme, where Evan returns after working as a Red Cross volunteer in the Middle East only to be abruptly presented with his past at the front desk of the Sea View Hotel.

Essentially, however, this bill does not forget that politics are the matters of the people. Both plays cut clearly through the big stuff to the heart of humanity, in their lucid portrayal of complex new relationships and the bigger social ideas that shape the way in which they develop.

In A Letter of Last Resort, David Greig’s quick witted script and a delightful repartee between the newly elected Prime Minister and John, Head of Arrangements, makes the rather heavy subject of nuclear invasion as light as a slice of Victoria Sponge whilst listening to Radio Four. In fact, the pair often lament the loss of Radio Four flagship The Archers to nuclear invasion.

Belinda Lang gives a superb performance as a frank, funny prime minister who is adamant that she will put people at the centre of her decision making. Art, of course, doesn’t always have to imitate life. She insists on knowing the first names of her sea bound correspondents before putting pen to paper. The PM jousts continually with John, Head of Arrangements, played by the wonderful Simon Chandler who only offers his own opinions on the matter after the envelope has been sealed.

The bill moves swiftly from Downing Street to Helensburgh in time for Evan’s arrival at the Sea View Hotel. Helensburgh’s days as a holiday resort are supposedly long behind it, but I personally could have stayed absorbed in Harrower’s script a little longer.

Good with People is an effortless hour of thought-provoking drama. The play stirs up a mesmerising pot of big ideas for its audience to contemplate. It is hard, however to tear your thoughts away from unfolding relationship between Evan and hotel receptionist Helen, the mother of a boy he had viciously bullied at school. The performances are pitched perfectly by Blythe Duff and Richard Rankin to create the complex dynamic that sparks between a pair, when the past should just make them polite.

In fusion of the personal and the political, particularly in the second half, the Traverse’s double helping at the Fringe makes it a true force to be reckoned with.

The Blurb

Moving between Downing Street and Helensburgh, two gripping stories trace the paths of personal and political destruction. A fizzing double-bill from two of Scotland’s greatest playwrights, David Greig and David Harrower.