Fringe theatre

Adults, Traverse Theatre


Here’s a fecund dramatic set-up and a social situation which goes way beyond the awkward: what if you’re a sex worker providing services from your tiny Edinburgh flat and the client who turns up one late afternoon is your old English teacher, the one who wrote ‘You can do anything’ on your shirt on leaver’s day?

That’s the situation Zara (Dani Heron) finds herself in when Iain (Conleth Hill) – or Mr Urquhart, as she still thinks of him – walks through the door into her boudoir, a room where dildos and sex toys line the sideboard, a mirrored cabinet holds all manner of ropes and restraints, and a purple neon heart buzzes coolly on the wall. What’s love go to do with it? Not much, as it turns out.

In fact, Mr Urquhart is here to see a boy, Zara’s co-worker and partner in ‘the business’, Jay (Anders Hayward). But he’s late, so as Zara tries to make small talk – difficult when you’re hiding something and also laying down ground rules about sexual dos and don’ts – the cat leaves the bag, and teacher and ex-pupil are revealed to each other.

In this small, oppressive space everybody’s in crisis, though some crises are more acute than others. Pretty boy Jay, when he turns up, isn’t as young or as pretty as he once was. He has a baby daughter to care for and a partner he’s separated from. Zara’s dad doesn’t know what she does for a living and the learning she acquired when she finally made it to university has led nowhere.

Iain is in the greatest trouble. Closeted, unhappily married, unsure of his place in the world or (worse) his worth as a person.

Ultimately nobody is redeemed. But everyone finds consolation of sorts, either from a blessed moment of comfort with a stranger or by saying the unsayable to the people who needed to hear it – themselves and the ones they think they hold closest.

With a decade of theatre-making behind him now, we can no longer call Kieran Hurley a rising star of Scottish stage. But this unsettling and propulsive black comedy retains the edge his work has always had. Not an easy watch, but a worthwhile and affecting one.

Until August 27