Cotton Wool

Ali Taylor
Buckle for Dust
Theatre503
(2008)

Publicity image

The contrast between the marine blue of the set and the orange frame surrounding the stage is striking on entry to the theatre.

The simple set consists of a layered plywood floor painted marine blue, in the form of waves lapping a shore. Netting of the same blue colour hangs in three layers from the ceiling to the floor to the left of the stage. The design is unassuming but effective in the intimate space of Theatre503.

Cotton Wool is written by Ali Taylor, created on the Jerwood Arvon Young Playwrights' Apprenticeship and developed at the National Theatre Studio. Theatre503 and the collective Buckle for Dust present its UK debut.

Callum and Gussie launch themselves into the action by racing down the stairs the audience themselves have moments before walked down and arrive abruptly on the stage. Director Lisa Spirling uses this to reinforce the ambiguous divide between the audience and the actors on stage.

The brothers are fresh from their mother's funeral and escape to a remote beach in Kirkcaldy for a memorial binge. They gulp down Stella, cheap vodka and banter about the events of the day.

Their physical isolation on this remote beach mirrors how alone they now are in the world at the young ages of eighteen and sixteen respectively.

The only contribution their wider family makes is a handful of notes that their Uncle Bill gave to Callum, accompanied with the message: "Take it and fuck off".

Joseph Arkley is convincing as the bossy but caring older brother. His height advantage over Whitelaw's Gussie reinforces his more senior and dominant role.

Owen Whitelaw is perfectly cast as a hormonal mischievous teen. His young face suits the role and he is utterly believable as the naive Gussie.

Victoria Bavister plays Harriet, a moody defensive seventeen year old who rejects the advances of the clueless Gussie. Bavister delivers a strong performance overall, but at times tries a little too hard to be convincing.

As the play develops and Harriet becomes closer to Callum, Gussie is filled with fear and jealousy. Gussie seeks to drive a wedge between the pair, employing some amusing teenage tantrums that enable Spirling to lighten the atmosphere.

The struggle to let go of the past is present throughout the play and the brothers use a fantasy story of the selkies to hold on to something that no longer exists: their life as it was when their mother was alive.

Absence is just as significant as presence in this play, represented in both the death of the boys' mother and the disappearance of Harriett's unreliable father.

The synchronicity of Harriet's arrival in Scotland with the brothers' delayed voyage to London hints at the possibility of a new start for the boys, breathing fresh life into a largely static environment.

Although addressing a potentially bleak subject, Taylor delivers an uplifting play, with a clear link between life and death, as one episode comes to an end (the death of their mother), a new episode begins (their relationship with Harriet). The result allows visitors to leave the theatre feeling quite upbeat and uplifted.

Until 26th April

Reviewer: Eva Ritchie