Edinburgh in the future. Surveillance cameras adhere to every available surface, the vending machines dole out health advice instead of Irn Bru, smoking is banned everywhere and the gulf between rich and poor has widened to the point where the ill and uninsured buy lottery tickets for hospital treatment.
This is the vision of the world to come offered up by Vanishing Point in their highly entertaining new show, playing at the Lyric Hammersmith’s small studio space after a successful run on the Edinburgh fringe. Essentially a two-hander, it’s a darkly funny piece blessed with a real sense of the capacity of language to be as enthralling as the most in-your-face onstage pyrotechnics.
In terms of plot, there’s not a lot to it. After a ten year absence from the city, Patrick returns with hopes of some sort of reconciliation with his estranged father. Searching for him in his old haunts in Leith, he unwittingly uncovers a burgeoning revolutionary movement and a sinister medical scandal. However, though the dystopian aspect of the narrative allows for some quality lines of dialogue (“Clooney was a crap actor. Great president though”) it is all rather overshadowed by Patrick’s simple quest to share a pint with the dad he hasn’t seen in years.
However, what really gives this play a pulse, what gives it form and focus, is the use of music. The most striking thing about Subwayis the seven-piece Kosovan band whose playing accompanies every twist and turn of Patrick’s story. It sounds like a bizarre device, but in practice it works perfectly. The marriage of music and performance is excellent, the band complementing the action wonderfully. Their playing matches the mood of each scene and somehow manages to draw out the internal music of the characters’ lilting Scottish accents, to enhance the rhythms and patterns of the words being spoken. Plus there’s something intrinsically amusing about a bunch of Kosovans hymning the virtues of the “fastest barmaid in Leith.”
Subway is very well played by both Sandy Grierson, as Patrick, and Rosalind Sydney, as pretty much everyone else, including Patrick’s dour dad. They have a nice rapport and the charismatic Grierson is especially engaging, holding your attention through what at times is essentially a monologue. He also has a nice line in comedy walking-on-the-spot, which the production milks superbly.
There’s a lot to like about this small show, its lively sense of invention, its facility with language, though admittedly it all gets a bit convoluted and repetitive towards the end and it feels like they rather lost their handle on how to wrap the show up in a satisfactory manner. But there’s enough originality and humour in the staging to sail you over its shortcomings and I left the theatre feeling uplifted and wondering where I can acquire my very own Kosovan band to soundtrack my day-to-day life.