Hope and Joy

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Magnus was born to fly in Ellie Stewart’s new play, seen in Caitlin Skinner’s touring co-production between the Stellar Quines and Pearlfisher theatre companies. It’s what happened after his mum Hope’s brief dalliance with a swan, when Magnus arrived as an egg, sporting fully grown wings once he’d hatched. That was back in he hospital, after Hope was helped along by Joy, a cleaner who points up the cash-strapped absurdities of the health system inbetween shacking up with a goldfish. Several years on, and Magnus’ efforts to fly the nest are going nowhere, though his efforts as a flamenco pole dancer in Stornoway are as untethered as his friendship with the local pigeons.

To call Stewart’s play quirky would be to do it a disservice. Hers is a free-spirited construction, laced throughout with everyday absurdism and a down-home magical realism that lends a deceptive depth to its depiction of domestic disharmony and the messy lives played out within it. With Becky Minto’s set curtaining the action in a fairytale-style forest, neither fish nor fowl are contained within it, as Hope and joy become accidental co-dependents while Magnus does his own thing.

Over a playfully bright hour pulsed along by a retro-inclined electronic soundscape put together by Susan Bear, Skinner’s production gets to the heart of what it means to care for someone, however off-kilter the set-up might be. Kim Gerard and Beth Marshall spark off each other as Hope and Joy, each finding comfort in the very different things they love. As Magnus, Ryan Havelin possesses a youthful vitality that delivers each deadly one-liner with a wit and a warmth that runs throughout the play without ever forgetting where he’s come from. The quiet beauty of this makes for a wide-eyed work of considerable wonder that sees all involved learn to take flight in their own very special way.