The City ***

There’s something fitting about the set for The Tron’s production of The City. It’s produced in the small studio space, and the audience are presented with a flat playing area surrounded by brick walls.

Some will see this play as a challenge, as if it were either a wall that needs to be climbed or picked at in order to reveal truth.

Others may see this same wall and wish to bash their brains out.

What is Martin Crimp’s The City about? That key question isn’t really answered until the very last minute, and even that revelation is neither complete nor definitive. It does involve a woman named Claire, who’s translating a diary written by a victim of torture, and mostly focuses on her relationship with her recently unemployed husband Chris.  The majority of the play is based on scenes of verbal battle, with characters attempting to make themselves understood and gain power all while being elusive with their actual desires. This is a play not about what characters say but what they mean, even if their ‘meaning’ isn’t usually clear.

The production itself is quite sharp. Director Andy Arnold keeps scenes taut and balanced. He doesn’t impose any extra interpretation on Crimp’s dialogue, choosing to instead highlight the ambiguities and conflicts. He is also assisted by a solid cast, with Ronnie Simon and Gabriel Quigley giving great supporting performances.

But the main focus of the play is on Claire, and here Selina Boyack gives a fantastic performance. She manages to make Claire into an interesting, conflicted character. Boyack not only manages to make the dialogue work but brings a focused intelligence to the role. It a multilayered performance that is stronger than it first appears.

But as a whole, The City is at best adequate. It has a mostly impenetrable script that seems to think it’s much cleverer than it really is, and its clichéd ending is almost unforgiveable. There are some good performances at work, even if it is almost impossible to work up any enthusiasm for the production after the fact.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Playing at The Tron until March 6.


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