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A Slow Air

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Written and directed by David Harrower (whose previous work includes the acclaimed Knives in Hens and Blackbird) A Slow Air explores the troublesome past of an estranged brother and sister who have not spoken for 14 years.

Where Harrower's previous work makes space for the unknown and the unsaid, this sparse two-hander allows the characters of Athol Lewis Howden and Morna Susan Vidler to pick over the details of their fractured relationship in a pair of beautifully interwoven monologues.

At the start of the play the siblings are both geographically and emotionally distanced from one another. Athol, a self-made man in the tiling trade, lives in Glasgow with his wife where he enjoys the small successes of a neat, peaceable life. Morna, on the other hand, has an unsettled existence in Edinburgh: cleaning the houses of the rich, drinking with vigour and trying to round-off her 21 years as a mother by throwing a party-to-remember for her son Joshua.

It is Joshua who ignites the drama of the play by making an unexpected visit to his Uncle's home. In attempting to heal the family rift, his actions touch on the age-old problem of family bonds: bonds that are able to bring comfort and pain in equal measure. Although Harrower doesn't reinvent this theme, he certainly presents two fresh, engaging voices that keep the audience absorbed throughout.

The structure of the piece moves gracefully between the recent past and the memories of long ago and the transition from Athol to Morna is equally seamless with both sides of the conflict being told without recourse to repetition.

Howden and Vidler give sustained, nuanced performances. The contrast of their characters is made evident by their mannerisms: Vidler struts about her side of the stage, throwing her arms about, pointing, gesticulating and scrunching her hair with energetic frustration. Howden is more composed for the most part, working up to discrete moments of anger or pain which are then visibly repressed.

The flows of speech in A Slow Air are impressively natural: characters flit from one memory to another as the thought arises giving a sense that the conversation between actor and audience is honest and unaffected. But even though the monologues sometimes attempt to provide too much information or character history, some aspects of the characters' lives are glossed over, particularly Joshua whose behaviour makes him both racist thug and olive branch bearer.

However, you are certainly left wanting more.

-- Charlotte Pegram


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