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Published on Tuesday, 20 August 2013

3 stars

Zoo Southside (venue website)
2-17 Aug, 10:20am-11:30am
Reviewed by Jane Bristow

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

With an ambitious and original way of telling a story, this production gave a convincing depiction of life on a claustrophobic Scottish island where all is not as it seems. It's heavy in atmosphere and full of dark undertones, created in part through the use of puppets. Written by Victoria Cohen, it’s clear to see why the script won the RSC/Other prize – despite being her first play.

The story centres on Skildir, a young woman growing up in a cramped house on a cramped island. To escape, she regularly visits the cliffs that her father died falling from. Here she meets a mysterious visitor to the island called Sulair, who entertains her with stories of the birds that she loves to watch. It's a glimpse of freedom for her, and contrasts with her home life – where there are hints of an abusive relationship with her unpleasant step-father, which is either about to happen or has already happened.

Meanwhile, she also has six sisters, who fuel her step-father’s obsession with having a son a son at all costs – despite the failing health of her mother. The kindly intentions of Alice, the local midwife, only serve to make it hard to trust the motives of the locals. Cohen cleverly intertwines the two strands of the plot which builds for a tense and, in keeping with the tone of the play, ambiguous ending. The difficulties of staging a performance which alternates between a house and on a cliff face are dealt with well enough to make it clear what’s going on, which is especially necessary for the ominous cliffs.

Unsurprisingly, the overall impression is bleak and pretty intense for 10:20 in the morning, and I found it a little too relentlessly gritty – there was not much light relief from any of the characters, only very briefly in Sulair’s stories. But, considering the material, the subtle writing does stop short of forcing the audience to wallow in too much misery. A lot is left to individual interpretation, particularly at the end of the play. Meanwhile, the overall quality of both the acting and the puppets was somewhat variable, although as a young company there’s certainly a lot of promise.

By the end it was obvious that there’s a lot within Kind to impress, despite the youth of the cast – and I look forward to future performances where there’s a bigger budget and the performers have benefitted from more experience. For me, the stories of the birds that Sulair tells Skidir were the best and most unusual part of the play. Don’t go and see it if you’re if you’re in need of a laugh, but do if you’re interested in folklore and originality.

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