At a time where much new Scottish writing wears youth as a proud and hopeful badge of difference, A Beginning, A Middle and An End sets itself apart by marking the debut of 73 year old writer Sylvia Dow. Focusing upon movements between different stages of ageing within our life-cycles, and mirroring this with a self-conscious look at the process of writing, this collaboration with Stellar Quines and Greyscale makes perfect sense: the former an established voice for women, and the latter a company which sets out to emphasise the importance of the ‘spaces in-between’ combining with a writer who from the vantage point of age is able to fragment the traditional story-telling cliché of the seamless transition between beginning, middle and end.
Fresh from a creative writing MA at Glasgow University, Dow’s play has all the enthusiasm and nervous excitement of a first work. While needing occasional nips and tucks to tauten the longer soliloquies, the sheer eagerness of the writing is one of its most appealing elements. Featuring a couple’s attempts to make sense of the social structures present within their own lives, the play touches on universals of human existence while adroitly side-stepping the traps of cliché. Populated by a young and very able cast the piece offers a raw vitality, far from world weary, at peace with existence. Love for example is not dealt with as a messy topic, a source of pain and confusion, but organically, growing calmly around the characters like the avocado plants that dot the stage, the one constant in a life of flux.
Dow’s evident newness to writing gives her characters a self-conscious quality, and there is as much attention given to the spaces between words as the words themselves. The characters communicate not only in echoes but through words figured in Scrabble games, through symbols, sometimes breathlessly, often silently. Some words float, aware they may not fit: “do the children still say ‘scoosh’” she asks at one point – the language of the playground is in constant evolution, and outside we wonder: how much can change, yet remain the same?
A particular highlight of Selma Dimitrijevic’s production was Oliver Townsend’s immaculate stage design: a Lego-like surfaced cut-a-way shell of a room is gradually filled with possessions as characters progress through the different stages of their lives. As the room fills up, the scene changes and the play begin to blur together, reinforcing the plays movements to disband those spaces between, coming to feel almost like an organic mass shifting through scenes. While at times the popping up of a curtain rail and the pictures on the wall feel like an endearing attempt to play house, at others they seem more desperate: characters trying in vain to seek being, to mark – like a teenager ripping down old posters – the different stages their life drags them through.
A Beginning, A Middle and an End is complex for a first play. And while some aspects are overtly explained, there is much of the lives of the characters which seems deliberately left private, leaving the audience to build their own stories around where it is characters might have gone, the reasons for the changes in emotion, why so many of the explanations are held back. It works best when these points of the unknown begin to collide with what is familiar, an offering to the audience both to decipher and recognise. As I and other audience members are given avocado stones towards the end, the play’s ultimate value, as a sower of seeds rather than a linear story becomes apparent. The ending words – ‘This is the end’ – echo ironically, and hopefully, for a collaboration as charming and life affirming as this, it is in fact only the beginning.