Upon entering Traverse One, the set for The Straits immediately evokes memories of another play designed by Neil Warmington - last fall's Still Life, the culmination of the Traverse's The Slab Boys revival. The setting of The Straits, which takes place on a beach (and, briefly, in the home of one of its characters), is stylized into a concrete, gray cross, with ladders and steps by which characters make their (at times, extremely acrobatic) entrances.
The characters are four teens, Darren (Peter McNicholl), his sister Tracy (Alice O'Connell), Doink (James Marchant) and Jock (Freddy White). What's interesting about how Burke has written this play is how the relationships between the characters change. By the end of the play, Burke has successfully negotiated the complicated territory of adolescent relationships, pointing out not only the absurdities in how young adults (children, really) handle themselves with one another, but also the deep pathos of the teenage condition. His characters are too young to join the armed forces, so they engage in conflicts closer to home, with anyone they can brand the "enemy," and yet without being able to engage effectively with the adult world, they are heavily influenced by what is happening in it.
As the published script for The Straits is available for purchase in the theatre, it is amazing to note the amount of reactions and relations which Burke merely hints at, which are fully realized by the actors, under the direction of John Tiffany.
Unfortunately, there are several additions to the text which don't quite mesh with the mood of the piece. Multiple playbacks of the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" feel a bit out of place, considering that none of the characters seems to exhibit any punk sensibilities, and there are a series of dance/movement pieces that effect transitions between the pieces, which a cynical person might read as "the best way to let the actors have extensive costume changes without boring the audience."
"The Straits" is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, from 5th to 8th May, and will tour Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Southampton, and the Lighthouse Theatre Pool between now and 12th June.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody