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THEATRE A Night by the River Tay, Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Stripped-down narratives of shapeshifting, revenge and romance

LIKE a peppery side dish to the great salad of their summer production Wind in the Willows, Pitlochry Theatre re-deploys two men and two women from the cast of that play in a poetic assembly of short monologues staged with spartan minimalism in the leafy glade of their open-air amphitheatre.

Colin McCredie, who plays Toad with a wide-eyed infantile glee, deploys something of the same to create metamorphosis in reverse in Michael O’Neill’s Part of that World. His lightness of touch amplifies the surreal oddity of a man becoming a fish and the process is triggered by a horrific event at which he stares but cannot comprehend.

This fatalistic theme, that we are spectators without agency, is fully developed in the stand-out monologue and the best performance of the evening, Douglas Maxwell’s Beautiful Boy. Ali Watt displays the full range of his acting talent in this savage, funny and hallucinatory black narrative.

The character fascinates and it’s as if we inhabit every twitch of his mind as he switches from earnest aspiration to sour neurosis. A broken alcoholic son clearing up his dead mother’s house, he can’t come to terms with his social and artistic failure except through a free-wheeling fantasy of revenge and destructiveness.

Both playwright and actor operate at full stretch. Watt manages the hysteria with breathtaking control, just as Maxwell furnishes vivid imagery and the sense of an authentic social and psychological background.

He is swept away by the merciless Tay and the river reflects a bewildering loss of control over the elements of the man’s sanity and life — for the men there is no sentimental attachment to the river and they drown in it.

The women’s pieces,  all about romance, diffuse into undramatic sentimental reverie. Performed by Jane McCarry and Alicia McKenzie respectively, they are stranded without narrative in the unforgiving minimalism of director Amy Lipcott’s empty space.

Nevertheless, a fascinating experiment and a brave addition to the summer repertory.

Runs until September 3, box office: pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com

ANGUS REID

 

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