Traverse Theatre

WHEN Mark Thomas' best mate and comrade-in-arms in exposing international arms dealers turned out to be a spy, the result was this very personal show which remains hilariously forensic in its exposure of dodgy corporate practices.

On a filing cabinet-lined set, Thomas regales the audience with his adventures on the frontline with his usual blokeish charm, about how he and his mate Martin took a coach-load of arms dealers for a ride, then shows a film of an Indonesian general who admits on camera to torturing prisoners.

Thomas' tactics are both hilarious and provocative, but where his duplicity is righteous, Martin's becomes increasingly heart-breaking as footage of other campaigners and close friends is shown on screens that slide out of the filing cabinets as the penny slowly starts to drop.

Emma Callander's production navigates Thomas through what in other hands might end up a dense tale of paranoia, but which becomes instead both a sad and emotional tale of lost friendship and a fearless two fingers to the unseen and unelected forces who would usurp democracy.


Traverse Theatre

BETRAYAL is at the core too of Owen McCafferty's play for the Traverse, which rips into the dynamics of love, sex and the ebb and flow of relationships with unflinching honesty. When 50-something Tom tells his wife Joan how he was picked up in a hotel bar by Tara, a brash young woman half his age, the chain of events it sets off have major ramifications for all involved, including Peter, the smooth young escort who is used to making women feel special.

Rather than explode into a torrent of mid-life crisis self-loathing, however, Tom and Joan are shaken from their domestic torpor and reminded they're alive even as they recognise the absurdity of their lot.

The excitement Tara craves is out there somewhere, and even Peter learns to feel again.

Rachel O'Riordan sets her vivid and brutal production on Gary McCann's symbolically revolving set of anonymous grey rooms in which McCafferty's characters can talk openly and freely.

With each scene punctuated by the piercing electronic stabs of Debra Salem's score, the performances from Benny Young, Cara Kelly, Amiera Darwish and Owen Whitelaw are electric in this candid look at the everyday extremes of emotional exposure.


Traverse Theatre

THE horrors of the First World War may be the focus of this year's forthcoming Edinburgh International Festival, but Belgian writer/performer Valentijn Dhaenens gets in there first with this solo follow-up to last year's Bigmouth.

Forming part of this year's Big in Belgium season, SmallWar is a mesmeric and intimate meditation, which fuses words from real-life victims and survivors of assorted conflicts with performance and state-of-art video techniques.

It begins with a low chant, before Dhaenens, dressed as a female nurse, wheels on a video image of a soldier's prostrate and disembodied torso laid out on a bed. A telephone rings, and a projected spirit of the soldier climbs from his body to answer, followed over the next hour by another and another.

Through fragments of song and conversations with mothers, fathers and lovers, these spectral images represent the comatose soldier's dream-state. Dhaenens' own production for his SkaGen company and Theatre Royal Plymouth is a hauntingly intense 80 minutes, which explores both the poetic fascination with war as well as its casualties.

When one of the soldiers, all played by Dhaenens, with the Nurse the only flesh and blood portrayal on show, zips himself up into a body-bag as willing collateral damage, the image is a quiet but devastating symbol of the horrors of the Somme, Gaza and every battlefield in between.


Traverse Theatre

YOU could be forgiven for mistaking the slight, silver-haired woman in the grey suit standing at the side of the stage at the opening of The EmergencyRoom's staging of selections from James Joyce's epic novel, Finnegans Wake, for an usher.

When Olwen Fouere moves onto the terra firma of the stage and behind a microphone, however, this most singular of performers becomes a force of nature in a thing of beguiling and transformative beauty.

Revealing Joyce's chewily experimental text as a form of narrative sound poetry routines, Fouere becomes the river, the lifeforce that ebbs and flows throughout the book's final section.

As she breathes deep on the rhythms and cadences of every free-form line, she becomes a mystical sprite, both Prospero and Aerial flowing through some primal, pulsing estuary destined to turn back on itself.

Watching and listening to Fouere relish such playful material is thrilling enough, but Alma Kelliher's amplified underscore makes the experience even richer in a world class invocation that breathes gorgeous life into an already classic novel.

All shows run to August 24