Do Not Press This Button

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

three stars

Strangers on a train... She’s reading a book, he’s busy with his mobile phone. And then he gets up, sits beside her, tries to strike up a conversation. Could Alan Bisset’s new three-hander, directed here by Kirstin McLean, be teasing us into Brief Encounter territory? Nae chance. As the train chalks up the miles, we travel – at high speed – into a minefield of misconceptions, simmering hostilities and exchanges that veer into issues of race, prejudice and sexual orientation.

At first, Maria (Gemma McElhinney) is reluctant to chat but Ben (David Rankine) is persistent – albeit personable with it – so they enter into a game of Question and Answer that isn’t entirely playful. Maria pushes Ben into awkward corners, deliberately wrong-footing him when he avoids her tricksy ‘either/or’ questions about personal preferences.

Ben’s defensive tactics are useless against Maria’s lines of attack – and because we (like Maria) have assumed he’s hitting on her, Ben’s flailing discomfiture is funny, and we laugh. But Bissett likes to have twists that are means to a more serious end – and though some of these have a whiff of improbability, they do serve their purpose.

At which point, enter Terry (Cameron Fulton), bearing bottles of beer and attitudes that – like his accent, casual clothing and working-class background – are the antithesis of everything that lawyer Ben and anthropologist Maria seemingly represent.

By the time the train is pulling into Queen Street Station, there has been a head-on clash that – without giving too much away – has turned ugly. The cast of three handle the rapidly shifting moods with nicely-pitched characteristics – McElhinney’s Maria may be smiley, but she has feminist axes to grind and goads both men with real manipulative stealth.

Both Rankine and Fulton are, in different ways, simplistic fall guys and yes, it ends badly – I won’t say for which one. Your ma was clearly right when she warned ‘Don’t speak to strangers…’