Arches Awards Winners: Mother/Father/Son / Amada

Hugo Plowden / devised by the company and based on a short story by Isabelle Allende
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Publicity images for both plays

This double-bill of new directing talent presents two productions at opposite ends of the spectrum; while both are narratives dealing with themes of alienation, in execution and content it would be hard to find two plays more different from one another.

Mother/Father/Son starts the night off, with its tale of a family where Mother (Ann Scott-Jones) and Father (Peter Kelly) have not seen their Son (Ben Hitchins) in an indeterminate, but lengthy, amount of time. The piece has been publicized as being meant to take its inspiration from a Japanese phenomenon which involves young adults locking themselves in their rooms and living on the Internet, a concept which is far more interesting than Mother/Father/Son's execution of it.

The pace of the action is painstakingly slow, and while Hitchins' turn as Son is definitely creepy, even projections of weirdly shaped entities behind a screen can't overcome the play's general level of sedation. In the end, whether the issue comes down to direction or source material is unclear, but one does wonder what precisely made Mother/Father/Son stand out over its competition.

After an extended break (during which the audience is sent out of the theatre for set turnover) a slightly larger audience returned for Cora Bisset's Amada, a devised work based on a short story by Isabel Allende.

In contrast to Mother/Father/Son, Amada is pure magic. It is just over an hour long, but whereas time dragged in the first play, here it flies by. Performers Monica Bertei, Anita Vettesse, Harry Ward, Nerea Bello, and Galvarino Ceron-Carrasco bring to life a rich cast of characters as they tell the life story of Simple Maria, who starts as a bright and energetic child and ends as a dead prostitute.

Here, the cast is uniformly superb, and Bisset's direction mixes physicality, language, puppetry, and music in expert proportions. The actors blend Spanish/Chilean accents with Scottish ones, and while this is slightly jarring at first, the approach keeps Allende's story fresh and natural.

The set for Amada is simple - a few screens, some trunks, a stool, a table. Bisset and her team use lighting to its maximum effect, backlighting sharp cameo cutouts of a number of events. Singer Bello and guitarist Ceron-Carrasco contribute so much in tone and mood that they integrate fully into the production.

Amada shows the benefit that stellar source material can have on a theatrical work, especially when coupled with such precise and heartfelt production work.

Previous Arches Award winning play Snuff, a typical 'disaffected Scottish guys swear a lot and live like degenerates' presentation, was eventually presented at the Traverse during its regular season, then toured around Scotland and the UK with the help of the National Theatre. One can only hope that Amada - positive, warm, and thrilling, with incredibly strong, vibrant female presences (something that's been lacking in well-received new Scottish plays in recent years) - will find similar opportunities in its future.

Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody

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