____ is Where the Heart is

North Edinburgh Arts, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Three stars

THE grass is always greener on the other side of no-man’s-land for the two un-named young people at the centre of this short exploration of identity presented by Birds of Paradise theatre company, currently touring largely out of the way hamlets across the land. One lives at the centre of the big city’s throbbing heart, a rush of noisy life where nobody knows your name, which is fine sometimes. The other is struggling to fit in with the insular ways of a rural small town, where everybody’s business is public property.

Both are in retreat from where they feel stuck and are looking for somewhere safe to land. Separately they stumble on an out-of-the-way tented idyll, where activism, artistry and good times go hand in hand. Accepted for who they are on their own terms, both young people have an epiphany en route to finding their voice inside a very special community.

While this has been the life-changing way of things in summer camps and outdoor retreats of one form or another since time immemorial, Heather Marshall’s production of her own script that starts off as a pair of monologues which eventually intertwine takes things beyond town and country. By filling in the blanks of everyday protest that help define a woke generation weaned on Occupy and Extinction Rebellion but with roots in far older movements, the play is fired by an intimate sense of the power to change the self as much as anything else.

As the two youngsters on the verge, Nicholas Alban and Conrad Williamson find common ground throughout their heartfelt delivery, and are aided on screen by British Sign Language actor Jamie Rae. As a pointer to a more progressively inclusive world where people are free to explore different identities without prejudice, Marshall’s play opens up a space where the personal meets the political in non-binary times.