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Letter of Last Resort & Good With People

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Traverse Theatre
1-26 August

Two leading Scottish playwrights, David Greig and David Harrower, are represented by this double-bill of short pieces (the first running at forty minutes, the second an hour) first seen at the Tricycle in London and on tour with Paines Plough and Oran Mor.

Greig's The Letter of Last Resort, a brilliant highlight of Nicolas Kent's THE BOMB -- A Partial History sequence of plays and verbatim sketches, shows a new lady Prime Minister being approached by a civil servant in Downing Street on the important business of signing an instruction for the last surviving submarine captain in the event of nuclear wipe-out.

The question is: does he do nothing, or does he retaliate? Will it be China, or Iran? Belinda Lang's sharply strident PM is struggling with a letter of condolence to the mother of a dead soldier when this more urgent matter arises.

Confronted by Simon Chandler's deliciously smarmy apparatchik, she exclaims that it's just like a scene in Yes, Prime Minister. "Yes, Prime Minister," says the unflappable representative of the nation's secret workings.

Harrower's Good With People is a more poignant personal encounter laced with a less pressing nuclear threat. Richard Rankin's former Red Cross worker, Evan, returns to his native town, the naval base of Helensburgh, near Glasgow, to visit the mother, Helen (Blythe Duff), of a boyhood friend.

The friend was bullied and the matter still rankles. Helen runs a small hotel where Evan is staying, and the couple circle each other with memories and accusations before reaching some sort of closure. It's a gentle, disturbing play, very well directed by George Perrin, and it leaves a mark.

- Michael Coveney


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