Edinburgh International Festival



Traverse Theatre

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Taking care is everything in Enda Walsh’s new play, which charts the emotional and psychological whirlwind of a young man under observation in an unnamed institution. The pyjamas the young man wears as he stumbles into a room still littered with the debris from some kind of party the night before is the giveaway in Walsh’s own production, which leads Edinburgh International Festival’s theatre programme in this tentative return to live performance.

The young man is called John Kane, and, as he tidies up the mess on Jamie Vartan’s set, it is as if he is attempting to restore order inside his own head. Disembodied voices ask after his well-being in a booth that resembles a confessional. Meanwhile, what appears to be a giant lobster and an old man turn out to be two women called Mary, a clown doctor double act with stars in their eyes. When they’re not hogging the spotlight themselves, they enable John to role-play his traumatic past, all soundtracked by a live drummer in the corner.

A woozy playfulness is at the heart of this Edinburgh International Festival world premiere of Walsh’s play, a co-production between Ireland’s Landmark Productions and Galway International Festival. As words tumble out of John, played by Domhnall Gleeson with a beautifully contrary sense of determined vulnerability, Walsh’s melding of the madcap and the tender never ever loses sight of its own artifice.

Much of this is brought to bear by Clare Barrett and Aoife Duffin as the Marys, with drummer Sean Carpio giving it a pulse alongside Teho Teardo’s understated score. Is what transpires all in John’s mind? Maybe, but as he and one of the Marys take a leap of faith, in this fractured age of social distancing, Walsh’s play becomes a simple pointer to how clinging on to each other for dear life, together, side by side, is the only way to survive the storm.