Review: Ciara, Traverse, Edinburgh


A powerful portrait of Glasgow
Glasgow, famous for its art, infamous for its criminality. A cliché, perhaps, but one rendered with a compelling combination of insightful poetics, sharp humour and nauseating veracity in David Harrower’s excellent one-woman play. Blythe Duff is totally captivating as the eponymous gangster’s daughter and gallery owner, for whom a proximity to art is a supposedly civilising influence.

Photo: Eoin Carey
Photo: Eoin Carey

From the very outset of this Traverse Theatre Company production, directed with a lovely fluidity by Orla O’Loughlin, there is a discernible, and disconcerting, incongruity between Duff’s costume (a kind of overwrought Attic chic) and designer Anthony Lamble’s superb set, a bleak, premonitory brick warehouse, complete with a single mattress and a sinister metal chain suspended from the ceiling.

As Duff begins to speak – describing a painting, in which a giantess appears to sleep behind the city of Glasgow – one is lulled, briefly,  into a false sense of security. Ciara’s sense of the picture, and of the city, contrasts with her husband’s lumpen crudeness (the painting should, he says, be called Attack of the Fifty-Foot Weegie). We are in comfortable territory, the aesthete and her philistine spouse.

However, the narrative that follows – a portrait of a city through a brutally pre-determined life – is an unsettling reminder of Harrower’s extraordinary ability to unfurl, from a single character, a  drama of universal pertinence. Ciara’s life (in which crime is the only negation of poverty, violence and intimidation the stock-in-trade, sex reduced to a basest vulgarity) is like a Pandora’s Box. Harrower lifts the lid, and Duff gives brilliant, lyrical, sardonic, agonised expression to a Glasgow of well-heeled, ignorant art investors, vengeful, honour-seeking drug barons and darkly comic, enduring religious sectarianism. There are other Glasgows, of course, but there is a resonating truth in this one. (Mark Brown)

Traverse, 0131 228 1404, until 25 Aug (not 12 & 19), various times, £18-20 (£13-£15).

This review was originally published on the website of The List magazine on August 6, 2013:

© Mark Brown


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