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After Evan is arrested for online anti-Catholic abuse and as he awaits trial, both he and his parents try to come to terms with their situation and struggle to explain how they reached this point.
Optimist: Set in one small room with chairs surrounding the actors, there’s a deliberate and claustrophobic intimacy to the play. The uncomfortable proximity makes the central performance all the more powerful; you can clearly feel Evan’s latent anger and bitterness at the situation.
Cynic: I’ll give you that it’s well produced but I have a question. Evan’s “sectarianism” is borne of ignorance, not hatred, that’s made quite clear. But in that case what is the play’s purpose? What’s its message? A misguided sectarian slur drives the drama, but the play doesn’t seem to be saying anything about sectarianism itself…
Optimist: Perhaps that sectarianism is so ingrained in our society that it trickles down to even those who’ve never been directly exposed to it?
Cynic: Again, that drives the play but doesn’t feel like its main purpose. At times it seemed to me like the play’s central message was an indictment of the internet and technology. The title is a partial reference to ‘keyboard warrior’, it’s only when Evan’s online world is threatened that he reacts rashly, and if he weren’t so obsessed with the internet and violent video games none of this would have happened. It just felt judgemental to me: “Kids these days with their online abuse…”
Optimist: I’ll admit that I have wondered the same thing but I’m far from certain that’s really the case. During the big, climactic moment of the show – Evan’s monologue – the writing seemed to display a deep first-hand appreciation for video games. This makes me think the play was more of an indictment against the ineffective, catch-all laws against sectarian language, which punishes those who aren’t truly any danger and does nothing to address the real problem.
Cynic: That does seem a more logical stance for the play to take…
Optimist: Either way, I know I enjoyed it. It’s difficult to choose a stand-out performance as all three actors portrayed entirely different reactions very effectively. There’s the father’s confusion and disappointment as his career is trashed, the mother’s understated sadness and fear for her son. Most of all there’s Evan’s pain, bitterness and rage at both the situation he’s now in and the bullying that pushed him to it. The last-line of the play’s big climax was delivered which such anger and ferocity that I can still recall it perfectly now. All things considered this was a play which managed a great deal with very, very little. I was certainly glad to have seen it.
Cynic: All things considered, I’d say I was too.
Stephen: As you can see from the review, I’ve certainly struggled a bit with figuring out exactly what the play is trying to tell us. I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the play or a failing of my own. However, when it comes down to it- any play I’ve spent this long thinking about was certainly worth my time. If it interests you at all then don’t hesitate to see it.
Optimist: The play stars a cheeky bogle, a sexy selkie, a dour banshee and a diabolical demon. We find out our faerie protagonists, particularly the demon Black Donald, have had a hand in the events of Scottish history, and especially the Act of Union. The faeries are worried that if Scotland votes Yes and becomes a ‘proper country’ then it won’t have need for mythology anymore, and the faeries will all die out. It’s a cheekily satirical play, complete with a gorgeous and atmospheric set.
Cynic: …There’s a couple of chairs and some smoke.
Optimist: Beautiful chairs, and the smoke is used to great effect. The Assembly Rooms seemed like a terrific Fringe venue in general. But back to the play. At one point each of the faeries proposes the best way to make Scotland vote No, and in doing so they each appeal to their own characteristics. For example, the selkie believes the No campaign should make the Union seem pretty and enticing before…well, you know what selkies do to you. It’s an especially fun and clever little segment of the show.
Cynic: It was a good segment but that gets me onto the part I wanted to talk about; the play is essentially Yes propaganda.
Optimist: Alan Bissett is pro-Yes. He has said from the start that this is a pro-Yes play. It was crowd-funded by Yes voters and we’re voting Yes! So why on earth are you complaining about it being partisan?
Cynic: Being SO gung-ho about it just makes me a little uncomfortable.
Optimist: It’s unashamedly optimistic about Scotland’s future as an independent nation. Actively working to temper our own excitement about it seems emblematic of the exact kind of Scottish miserablism Bissett wants to oppose here.
Optimist: Exactly. The play is clever, witty, fun, does exactly what it sets out to do and is executed splendidly. You can’t help but walk out of the theatre with a smile on your face.
Stephen: I saw The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant on its first day. It was packed out then and I’ve heard it’s been packed out every night since, too. And it’s well deserved; this is a great play with lots of cheeky Scottish humour. Perfect if you’re a Yes voter or leaning in that direction (probably unbearable if you’re a staunch ‘No’, though!)
The Curing Room depicts a group of Soviet soldiers who have been locked in a cellar and left to rot by their fleeing Nazis captors in Poland. All they can do is try to hold onto their humanity until their comrades find them, or until they starve.
Cynic: Have you considered that the nakedness was a deliberately provocative and ‘edgy’ decision designed to draw in more of an audience?
Optimist: It’s a realistic depiction of how POW’s are mistreated by enemies and an incredibly brave feat for the actors to perform for an hour and a half on a bare set with no opportunity to hide anything from the audience. Besides, we had no idea they’d be naked until it the show started.
Cynic: But if it’s such a serious and artistic decision then why is it played for laughs? We’re only a few minutes into the play before we hear: “Get over it men; it’s only a cock (*wink wink, nudge nudge*).”
Cynic: Keep it in perspective; it’s not as if it’s saying anything new or original about the human condition. Sticking people in a room and depriving them of basic needs to watch what they do to survive has been done often enough before.
Optimist: Does every piece of art have to say something never before thought of by another human mind?
Optimist: No, this play isn’t the first to examine this situation but it’s the execution that’s so impressive. It’s impossible not to feel emotional while watching these men struggle to hold onto their humanity by desperately clinging to discipline, rank, and structure; even after they’re forced to eat their own dead.
Cynic: Okay- but who realistically cares about rank in a situation like this?
Optimist: That’s the strength of the play! The men themselves struggle to hold onto hierarchy and some sort of chain of command. But doing so is the only way they’re able to maintain any sort of civility or humanity. The stellar performances make it easy to believe that, for these men, it’s the most important thing in the world to maintain it.
Stephen: The Optimist in me wins this one easily. The Curing Room is a spectacular production and without a doubt the most moving play I’ve seen at the Fringe so far. If you’re in Edinburgh at all this month then I highly recommend you catch this one.