Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group
As the calender spins it's familiar path round to the closing of the year, the theatres and venues of Britain become filled with festive and holiday based cheer.
While many of these offerings tend towards traditional sentiments of schmaltz and moralising or messages of goodwill to others, Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group has opted to bring Craig Lucas's absurdist black comedy Reckless to the chilly streets of Auld Reekie this December.
Lucas's screwball story opens with the naïve and unshakably cheerful protagonist, Rachel, hyperactively waxing lyrically about her love for Christmas to her husband only for him to break down into tears and admit between sobs that he's hired a hitman to murder her. Although repentant, he points out that there are bare minutes before the killer will arrive, leaving little choice but for Rachel to scramble out of the window in nothing more than her dressing gown and slippers, and try to escape.
This begins a series of strange meetings and events, which lead her from living with Pooty (Helen Goldie) and Lloyd (Stewart Kerr), a deaf-mute paraplegic and her carer husband, to appearing on a whacky game-show, going on the run from the law and spending time in a mental care facility, all capably held together by Kerri Clarence, whose portrayal of Rachel maintains a chipper albeit increasingly manic attitude as she is flung from pillar to post by the strange ebbs of fate, relaxing into every new situation and trying to make the best of it, while repeatedly trying to explain the oddness to a succession of beleaguered psychiatrists.
It's a very enjoyable romp directed well in the hands of David Grimes. EGTG has whipped up a bleakly funny take on the material, strewing the stage with cast and stagehands dressed Christmas elves, tossing paper confetti like snow and sliding the few props on and off of the in-the-round stage seamlessly to create the often abrupt and dreamlike transitions.
The cast pull off credible American accents and capably show the dualities that exist within every character as almost everyone in the play has a secret past or dark secret they are hiding or running from, which mirrors the journey of Rachel and her own inner turmoils. Unfortunately, that in itself offers a downpoint of the production.
One of the fundamental issues with Reckless is that its strange, dreamlike logic and absurdly silly plotting sits ajar with the subtext of self-identity and refusal to accept past mistakes, meaning that, while the surface level comedy, and enjoyably daft hijinks that pepper the plot, are entertaining, there's a resultant discombobulation from the points where the narrative threatens to slip into something more serious.
The closing descent into something meaningful never quite feels earned and, despite some fantastic work from Clarence during a genuinely touching and beautifully constructed final scene, it feels like the picked-up end of a repeatedly and deliberately dropped thread. This is however a problem that results from the material and would be almost impossible to adapt away from successfully.
Luckily, the merits of the play as a simply zany piece of Christmas entertainment mean that it's unlikely anyone will leave the Roxy Assembly feeling that they've been short-changed.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan