Traverse, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

four stars

Everything you see on-stage in Nests is broken. Not just the rotting caravan, or the chaotic clutter – including empty bottles of cheap cider – that make Katy Wilson’s set reek of corrosive destitution. The two vulnerable characters in Xana Marwick’s first play are also in bits: disenfranchised in a world they feel doesn’t know they exist, let alone care about them. If, indeed, the welfare state provides a safety net for the hapless, this pair – a middle-aged man and a twelve year old lad - have already fallen through holes in the system when they encounter each other in a wooded wasteland.

Marwick tags the ramshackle, booze-guzzling man The Father, but there’s no blood tie to The Boy (Ashleigh More) who’s run away from home – mind you, as this wary pair form an awkward companionship, the Father (David McKay) wishfully persuades himself that this lost boy is his own abandoned kin. And there you have the can of worms that Marwick unrelentingly prises open, challenging us - through gradual fragments of background information – to decide where moral responsibility and duty of care lie. With society or with the individual?

Meanwhile, in parallel – and in animated outline across three TV monitors – is the boy’s pet Crow, whose sense of community, parenting skills and savvy survival tactics are a reproach to our own inadequacies. Director Heather Fulton (of co-producers Frozen Charlotte) is pleasingly wise to Marwick’s ploy of off-setting grim realities with the richer inner imaginings and creative impulses of her characters.

When More’s Boy loosens his defensive sullenness, you glimpse the engagingly bright, inquisitive lad whose future is being blighted by circumstance while McKay’s Father is a cannily nuanced amalgam of guilt, despair, impotent anger – at himself, and those in power – that melts away when he plays guitar and sings for The Boy. Is all lost? Perhaps a welcome sequel will offer a shared redemption.