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Fugue

Rona Munroe
Another Planet Productions
Blue Elephant Theatre
(2004)

Rona Munroe is one of Scotland's finest playwrights with a series of award-winning plays and a few film scripts to her credit. One of the trio of '80s women writing for Scottish theatre (the others are Sue Glover and Liz Lochhead), she has never strayed from her dedication to staging female experience. Her epic piece The Maiden Stone brought women of mythical and mundane scope together in a wild highland landscape with round after round of birth and death, nature and nurture. The German film Aimee and Jaguar which she co-scripted was utterly thrilling.

Her first play, Fugue, which won a Fringe First Award for the Traverse at the Edinburgh Festival in 1985, is a strong piece of work delving deep into the female psyche, exploring connections to place and past. It is tantalisingly vague as to the exact nature of relevant events and we are left guessing, reflecting as an audience the self-destructive doubts running amok in the minds of the characters.

Kay has been found wandering in a state of mental collapse in the woods in the vicinity of a holiday retreat. What has happened? Has there been an act of violence, rape, perhaps, or a spectral presence, imagined events precipitated by stress, solitude and memory? Kay is frantic and full of doubts and her mental anguish destabilises the bright young psychiatrist sent to help her.

Munroe's writing gives women a voice seldom heard in contemporary theatre - or, perhaps, I should say voices. Her characters transcend the stereotypes to which actresses are regularly obliged to commit themselves. Connections between women are recognisably deep and meaningful in Munroe's work and she excavates relationships with an acute intelligence and a keen eye for detail. Her work is satisfying and engaging because she has the ability to take the everyday beyond the triteness of soap-opera realism, to take emotions to the edge without sensationalism, and to create female bonds without sentimentality. She can get inside and agitate but her women are never merely victims of patriarchal prejudice. Fugue is one of her more harrowing pieces in which personal histories, attachments to places and events provoke conflict, inner doubts and extremes of vulnerability.

Fugue is a daring piece of writing, poetic in its strong sense of attachment and loss, rhythmical in its moods, and sensuous in motion and prose. It is a feat of courage for three young actresses to attempt a staging. Theresa Aldridge and Heather Rayment as the dual personas of Kay, and Sarah Winterflood as the Ghost/Psychiatrist must be applauded for their courage and energy. However, the pacing was uneven, falling, particularly at the beginning, into the monotone, and more vocal modulation would have done justice to the text. While the actresses played their roles with conviction, the direction could have paid more attention to the fine tuning.

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher