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Lifting the Mask
Published on Sunday, 18 August 2013

3 stars

theSpace on the Mile (venue website)
4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24 Aug, 2:30pm-3:30pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

I have seen a remarkable number of apparently extremely important social and political pieces on offer in this year's Fringe programme. And I've sat through no small number of them myself. However, it is still refreshing to see some old-school theatre activism from a university company. As a play, it has a few flaws, but it also shows a lot of promise; there's quite a bit of new writing among this year's offerings, and this one holds its own as a proud example of what Scottish university students can achieve.

The play has three central characters - Craig, a student journalist; Amy, a high-class escort; and Farid, a university drop-out who is on his way around Africa on a gap year. Their stories link together in a way that supposedly 'lifts the mask' on perceptions of social injustice in different cultures. Craig interviews Amy, and Amy mirrors a prostitute Farid has fallen in love with in Africa. For the most part, Cameron Forbes has done a fantastic job in achieving his aim of linking similar stories all around the world. It doesn't sound like particularly enjoyable Fringe viewing, but this young cast do a good job in combining entertainment with a socio-political message - a tough merger to get right, and something that's been a sticking point in plenty of similar shows I've seen.

Issues surrounding rape, prostitution and homophobia are never easy to tackle in an hour-long theatre piece. New Celts/PromisKus generally handled them very well, although at times it did become uncomfortably confrontational. Notably, the scene where Amy pressures Craig about him not being a "proper" gay because he's never tried anything with a man or a woman crossed several boundaries that, personally, I had issue with.

In terms of writing, Forbes hasn't done a bad job; the structure of the play and the linking threads between characters are extremely clever. However, I became a little tired of Farid's long and flowery monologues. I'm assuming these served the purpose of a) displaying that Farid is a proper Writer, and b) adding some art to a piece which could become very easily bogged down in social justice. Still, it seemed a little contrived.

The highlight of the piece for me was when actor Chanelle Shea-Calvin merged two characters into one - becoming both Nina and Amy, in a story detailing the dangers of prostitution. Shea-Calvin delivers a stellar portrayal of the characters she plays, and is by far the most believable of the three actors. It's also she who carries most of the piece - providing the major link, and probing the others for stories which, without her, would not have been revealed. Despite only having three actors, I never felt confused or displaced when there were changes to characters or settings. The play flows smoothly and cleverly, and keeps the audience travelling with it.

The most exciting thing about this piece is the promise it shows for young new writing in Scotland. It’s certainly pieced together and concluded better than a lot of other theatre I've seen. Don't go and see it if you're sensitive to political issues in art, but it (mercifully) doesn't preach at the audience. And for that reason alone, I recommend it.

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