The Wheel

Zinnie Harris
National Theatre of Scotland
Traverse 1

Ever since its first major production Black Watch, the imprimatur of The National Theatre of Scotland has been an effective guarantee of unmissable theatre.

The company's work is characterised by thoughtful, imaginative plays utilising ensemble acting and the best backstage creative teams to maximise the impact of the text.

The Wheel lives up to that billing and shows every sign of becoming at least a minor classic.

The work's protagonist Beatriz shares the best facets of those two legendary Mothers, Courage and Teresa. Catherine Walsh, immaculately demonstrates all of her character's pain and optimism as she embarks on a picaresque journey through multiple war zones.

The play opens calmly and happily enough as she prepares to help her sister, Olga Wehrly's Rosa to enjoy the latter's wedding day, as war rages between their native Spain and France.

The day is ruined when a group of volunteer soldiers arrives and, after a kangaroo court, threatens to execute a neighbour.

The fearless heroine saves his life but, in return, gets saddled with the man's seemingly mute daughter, played by Rebecca Benson. The pair then embark on a chase to catch the father, who has been exiled.

For most of the remainder of the 1¾ hours, the girl does or does not perform minor miracles, becoming a figure of wonder and fear.

Along the route, Beatriz inherits a younger, orphaned boy and a baby, to add to a burden that she bears with innate goodness, if occasional understandable impatience.

With The Wheel, Zinnie Harris brings back memories of perhaps her best play, Further than the Furthest Thing, which started life on the same stage.

Once again, she keeps viewers on their toes as knowledge slowly seeps through that the wars we are witnessing change from scene to scene. Spaniards facing French eventually morph into emigrants fleeing the Nazis and then Cambodians enduring similar terrors with American napalm.

NTS Artistic Director Vicki Featherstone does her playwright proud with a typically adventurous staging.

Merle Hensel's set features a bombed-out every-town, while the action is enhanced by this Company's trademark complementary movement and music respectively designed by Christine Devaney and Nick Powell.

By the end of the evening, the patience of even the saintly Beatriz has been tested to the limit and there is a terrible implication that the cycle of perpetual wars will be repeated forever.

As such, The Wheel is a humane and moving play about the way in which innocents suffer during conflicts that should be seen as much for its vital message as the way in which it is packaged and delivered.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher