Skip to content


Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Edinburgh 2010
Mysterious Skin
Published on Monday, 30 August 2010

5 stars

Gilded Balloon Teviot (venue website)
4-30 Aug, 1:00pm (2:15pm)
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

This impressive performance intrigued me immediately and gripped me very quickly.  Controversial and brave, the play gives voice to the terrible secrets of victims of child abuse: in this case two men who, as 8-year-old boys, were abused by their baseball coach and live to relive the experience again and again.  This treatment, cleverly interpreting abuse through its medical euphemism of alien abduction (‘the memory of being taken secretly against one’s will, apparently by non-humans, and subjected to physical and psychological procedures’) illuminates the potential and regular impact on ‘abductees’ as they make their way in adult society, unable to leave the past behind them.  A valuable contribution to our often understandably limited comprehension of this subject, it brings into question again the nature vs. nurture debate.

Notwithstanding the potentially unpalatable theme, perhaps more usually swept under the carpet than brought to the stage, the two male leads own their roles and portray the material as sensitively as if representing their own experience.

The first scene reveals Brian to be at the behest of six symptoms of victims of alien abduction: ‘stolen time’, recurring nightmares, unexplained bruises, paranoia, fear of the dark and unexplained interest in UFOs.  These symptoms he takes for granted, until they are brought to the forefront of his personal awareness through communication with Avalyn, who evidently suffers from having been taken by aliens herself and is explicit about her own, similar symptoms.  Apparently for the first time, Brian finds consolation in Avalyn’s understanding of his worldview; at the same time her own loneliness and exile is relieved, but Brian seems unable if not unwilling to get drawn in.

When teenage Neil, now a hustler ‘in service’ to ‘older men’ in their 40s, shockingly but courageously admits remembering he enjoyed the sex - believing at 8 it was an honour to be loved by his coach - his performance is so unselfconscious that there is space and compassion enough for the audience to absorb this information.  It turns out that Brian and Neil crossed paths in the past; in an emotional meeting ten years on, they both find some redemption.

I have to applaud this production for daring to bring this play to the stage.  Adapted from the original novel by Scott Heim (which was also adapted for the screen in 2004) this is the first time the play has been performed outside of America.  It is compelling to watch, and the standard of performance outstanding.  Some scenes which might be uncomfortable to watch in a less polished production are visceral and powerfully realistic without being offensive.

It is well cast – the actors really do inhabit their roles and their command of their lines almost perfect; the powerful dialogue needs no more than the minimalist set which is anyway offset by costumes well suited to the characters.  There is nothing ‘budget’ about this performance.  Altogether an excellent production, and highly recommended.

<< Lockerbie: Unfinished Bus...   Amusements >>


These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

Edinburgh 2013

Coming to the Fringe this year?  We can help you make the most of your time.  Learn about Edinburgh's summer Festivals and plan your visit around the city's major events. 

Find out more >>