Good With People

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

The past is, so they say, a foreign country – albeit one that isn’t alway easy, or comforting, to revisit. And yet, as the two people in David Harrower’s play increasingly demonstrate, the past can haunt you, shape you, maybe even diminish you, if you don’t lay aspects of it to rest.

The opening scene finds Helen (Louise Ludgate) already reminiscing, ruefully harking back to when Helensburgh was a bustling seaside destination. Now there’s only one booking listed at the Seaview Hotel – and the moment that guest walks in, Helen’s memories go into overdrive. The Evan standing at reception is a grown man, the Evan that Helen recognises is the young lad who bullied her son Jack at school.

Within seconds, long-held anger has erupted like a lava flow. It probably doesn’t help that Evan (Daniel Cahill) still has an off-hand manner that makes others feel discounted or irrelevant. Harrower opts for a twist of wily irony here: the bully-boy is now a nurse, just back from working as a Red Cross volunteer in a war zone.

Is Helen impressed? Not especially. But somehow, as initially terse exchanges edge more into prickly and wickedly funny banter, an odd rapport creeps in. Present circumstances, less than ideal for either of them, become part of exchanges that rake over a shared past that also affected Helensburgh itself.

The downturn seemingly arrived with the nuclear naval base nearby. Evan’s father worked there, and so young Evan was one of the ‘Faslane kids’ – a tag that invited animosity from locals who were fearful and suspicious of the base’s activities. Bit by bit Ludgate and Cahill unravel the complex cause and effect hinterland that still exerts a hold on their respective characters. Hostilities flare, but both performers, like Rosa Duncan’s directorial touch, avoid phoney tantrums in favour of a finely-attuned naturalism that makes this struggle to escape the shackles of the past genuinely compelling.