Alex & Eliza

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Meeting your granny for the first time in years can be full of surprises. So it goes for the young man in Umar Butt’s play whose life working in the family corner shop on Sauchiehall Street is leavened both by the banter with his fly Jamaican customer Alex and his excursions into amateur dramatic musicals. With his family away, it is left to him to granny-sit Eliza, who has flown in for what turns out to be a night of surprises and revelations of life and death adventures that took her to the place she learnt to call home.

Umar Butt plays a version of himself in his beautifully realised true story. From his own doorstep, it travels the world in its evocation of the traumas of migration following the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Here, the multiple forms of identity that resulted for a young girl who crossed personal and global borders makes her a liberated symbol of a world without walls. At the heart of this is the love story between Eliza and her accidental marriage to another Alex, which leads her eventually to a Glasgow flat and an old harmonium.

All this is delivered in a charmingly engaging fashion in Butt’s own production for the ARC, Stockton, with the first half of his 75-minute opus engaging with the audience as each exchange is punctuated with a song or dance routine. This is just the sucker punch, however, for infinitely more serious things at play.

With Butt playing his own grand-father and Seweryna Dudzinska as Eliza, the play leaps across time as much as Hannah Sibal’s crate-based set. Danny Charles is a versatile foil as assorted extended family members, with the whole thing pulsed along by Laura Stutter’s live sound-scape. The result is a moving of-the-moment evocation, not just of the buried treasure in every family history, but of how events beyond one’s control can shape a life of everyday heroism beyond.