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Half-Empty Glasses / A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain at Roundabout – Edinburgh Fringe reviews

Paines Plough's productions run in the state-of-the-art pop-up space

© David Monteith-Hodge

Half-Empty Glasses


A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain


The dedication of Paines Plough to supporting new writing is in itself so inspiring that it feels mean-spirited to criticise their work. But the shows they have brought to the Edinburgh Festival this year reveal the limitations as well as the advantages of their approach in creating small-scale work that will tour easily.

Certainly Half-Empty Glasses by Dipo Baruwa-Etti feels as if it needs more room to fly than its tight running time allows. It's a play of ideas that are rich and dense enough to sustain a more expansive format.

It focuses on Toye (Samuel Tracy), a high-achieving pupil in a better than average comprehensive. He first walks into Kaleya Baxe's lively production dreaming of music; placing his hands on an empty plinth centre-stage, he conjures classical sounds that seem to animate Rory Beaton's lighting and fill the space with wonder.

But his plans to win a scholarship to a better private school, with a great music department, begin to be derailed. His father is suffering from Parkinson's, losing his voice, losing his power. And Toye becomes obsessed with the idea that most black voices are excluded from the school curriculum; they learn about Martin Luther King, but other people whose contribution to history was just as great are forgotten. "There are more shades to us than we've been told," he says.

He persuades his friends, head-girl Remi (Princess Khumalo) and Asha (Sara Hazemi) to join his campaign to create a lunch-time lecture in the playground, that will tell the other pupils about black lives that matter. But conflicts break out; Remi is convinced they would do better working within the power structure of the school rather than opposing them; Asha feels that her own Middle Eastern background deserves greater attention.

The debates raised are fascinating: can you change society without changing its structures? How does a school and a world need to react to give greater weight to a different curriculum? Who really holds privilege? Baruwa-Etti, a rising star whose An Unfinished Man at The Yard was so impressive, writes with fluency and skill, constantly emphasising complexity over simplicity.

Yet the play feels constricted and the ending rushed; having set up a complicated set of arguments, it settles them in ways that seem too neat and saccharine. It is never less than involving, and the performances are lively and committed, but it somehow doesn't satisfy.

Hats off to the three performers though, because a few hours later they are back on stage and just as impassioned and convincing in another new play, A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain by Sami Ibrahim, best known for the award-winning Two Palestinians Go Dogging. Once again, a promising idea runs into the sand, but here it's thanks to repetition rather than over-ambition.

The play is a fable about Elif, an illegal immigrant to a far-off island not so dissimilar from our own, who shears sheep for a rich landowner. When his son gets her pregnant, her life changes, as she struggles both with the endless and meaningless bureaucracy of immigration, and with trying to ensure a better future for her daughter.

The tone is deliberately knowing. Elif's work, making clouds from the wool, keeps the land's weather system in balance; when she is forced away from the land, the climate collapses, and she ends up in a system where she has to vacuum up the rain. All the characters comment on their state, and step in and out of the action, altering the story to suit their purposes and their desire to find a happy ending.

It is heartfelt, but so keen to make its point that its methods begin to seem relentless and obvious. A disappointment.