When Brute Culture's director Amanda Caswell-Robinson began exploring the project of Travis' Prophecy, she observed that the "power given to tarot card readers is similar to that given to therapists". The theory being that whilst many use their talents to bestow good intentions, the minority abuse such positions for their own gains.
By modern notions of the healing industry, almost all the characters here would have been packed off to trauma treatments long ago. We open with the child Saskia (Kathryn Ford) cowering from the physical abuse heaped on her mother by Ian Mayhew's oppressive father figure. Then we burst into Dennis Potter territory as a line of singers emerges to pastiche a 1950s tune. In the background, the father's stick swishes and cuts until the parents collapse exhausted onto the sofa. Meanwhile, the singers form a human barrier between wounded child and devastated mother.
Elsewhere, the troubled boy Travis is already spreading his tarots on the deck. Once again, parental menace intrudes via Hannah Rothman's startling mother persona. Cajoling and caring at first, she gradually unleashes a torrent of unflinching abuse. Splendid in scarlet tunic and grey slacks, Rothman is the contemporary maternal menace updated from countless old folk tales. The culture of brutes indeed.
All the while in the intimate Union Theatre, London trains rumble ominously overhead with pitched police siren wails never far behind. It's a bizarre yet beguiling venue, tucked away in the heart of a shape-shifting Southwark. During the interval, a straggle of kids from the adjacent council estates drift by - the gritty language of their real life imitating the art taking place a few feet away.
The second half follows the characters into their grown up worlds, with Travis now in apparent command of his tarot talents. His mates see this as a way of sorting out their romantic entanglements, but the suspicion grows that Travis has his own agenda. Still under his mother's yoke, he remains an orb of apparent calm manipulation as all around him crumple.
However, we're ultimately left with rather too many themes to contemplate. The second half does well to hint at some of the secrets that may unlock the first part’s attitudes, but too much is left unexplored. Particularly the tarot cards themselves, which tend to flit in and out of proceedings almost at whim. It's a strong cast presence though, with James Seager (as Travis) continuing to bear the unmistakable stamp of star quality.
The drama itself was born out of improvisation, and whilst this helps create a highwire tension, it also leaves certain scenes in need of tightening. But if they can achieve this much already, Brute Culture should be roaring like those overhead trains by the time they steam into Edinburgh in August.