Despite being almost set-less and containing almost no onstage action, A Slow Air is enormously engaging. It unfolds like a melody. A gentle exploration of the ordinary, its rhythm is built around the consolations of memory and music. Written and directed by the Scottish playwright, David Harrower, this set of intertwining monologues is a way for him to explore the Edinburgh he remembers: “I wanted to write something about people I know, voices I grew up with,” he says. “I just got into the language and these people just wouldn’t stop talking.”
Not unlike a radio play, space is gifted to the listener to create images to match the sound effects. Thinking back on the events that middle-aged siblings Morna and Athol describe, an hour and a half full of interactions and landscape are conjured, yet non of these things actually occur on stage. The two actors simply take it in turns to stand spotlit and talk to the audience, yet it never feels static or lacking.
A combination of misread intentions, fierce paranoia and the distorted effects of the past create a touchingly accurate portrayal of sibling relationships. Morna and Athol have not spoken for over fourteen years. Athol is is reliable and settled with a gruff sense of humour and a sensitivity he tries to keep hidden; Morna, a cleaner of posh houses, is scathingly self depreciating with the hard wild wit of a woman who has suffered in her life but is determined to come out on top. As her son Josh prepares to celebrate his twenty first birthday all three are about to meet again.
The events of the play take place against the backdrop of the 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack. One of the bomb makers lived in Athol’s village and he and his nephew visit the terrorist’s now abandoned house. The attack has brought the community together in a way that is life-changing for Athol and as they walk around the silent rooms, grand ideology is carefully held against the minutiae of life with a wonderful sense of scale; the epic event is dealt with at a determinedly local level, the momentous and the insignificant occurring side by side, without explanation.
Harrower’s direction is gentle and he writes with a great confidence in his audience. The play is concerned with everyday moments – with dog walking, sketching, and listening to unheard music – yet there is a fierce intensity throughout. Josh is an aspiring comic book artist and the piece id paced like that of a certain kind of graphic novel, perhaps something drawn by Jimmy Corrigan or Daniel Clowes. The kindness of neighbors, the fragility of belonging and the deep need to be seen are told as layering tableaux. Slow and elegant, these images are precisely detailed and simply composed.
Actors Lewis Howden and Susan Vidler speak with voices are rich and real. Tension is built from little more than the winding and unwinding of resentment, but when added to the weight of lives lived but not understood, the result is deeply moving.