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Edinburgh review: Travesty (Assembly George Square)

Liam Williams' debut play about a young couple packs an emotional punch

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Lydia Larson and Pierro Niel-Mee in Travesty
© Claire Haigh

A boy and a girl are in bed together, in the post-coital messiness of their third coupling. Only you quickly realise that that doesn't quite sum up the situation. Because here the boy Ben, is played by a woman (Lydia Larson) while actor Pierro Niel-Mee, coyly pulling on a borrowed jumper, is a girl called Anna.

That gender swap and its destabilising effect informs everything that follows in this debut play from comedian Liam Williams, directed by Emily Burns for the new company Fight in the Dog. Williams has been called the voice of his generation (though in fairness, quite a lot of people have) and he is particularly sharp on the millennial angst that afflicts this relationship.

As we follow it through commitment (Ben mouths I love you in the mirror, before actually saying it to Anna) to the commonplace (Anna won't have sex because she wants to hang up the washing) to final, painful breakup ('You're making me the villain' moans Anna), the observation of decline is acute.

Ben is idealistic and committed. "Love shouldn't be mediated by consumption," he observes, describing the way that each stage of the affair's development is marked by the purchase of a spiraliser, a nutribullet or a lemon tart. Anna buys into the outward trappings of love's young dream.

It's a travesty, I presume, because it isn't real - or at least, it isn't for Anna. But also because travesti are traditionally characters in theatre played by members of the opposite sex. And that notion does pay dividends; for one thing, it makes you notice more clearly how the characters touch each other, how Ben's assumption of proprietorial possession is matched by Anna's coy preening.

It's true that Williams writes Ben with more insight than Anna (I didn't for a moment believe that laundry obsession) and it's also true that saying men and women have different expectations isn't exactly earth shattering. But Travesty is nevertheless consistently funny, while packing quite an emotional punch.

Its ultimate insight is that as it progresses, the stereotypical characteristics of the sexes swap. So it is Ben who longs for commitment and domesticity, who wants to become a smug couple and have brunch on Sundays, while it is Anna who wriggles away in search of sexual freedom. That challenge to our assumptions makes this short piece an interesting and satisfying debut.

Travesty runs at Assembly George Square at 5.30pm until August 28 (not Aug 15).

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