Like Molly Taylor, the writer, solo performer, and main character of Extinguished Things, I have suffered the classic millennial indignity that is temporarily moving back in with your parents. Like Molly, I slept in my childhood bedroom—hers is here represented by a plush white carpet, white furniture, white curtains that I instantly identified as a childhood bedroom before the play had actually begun. Unlike Molly, I did not break into my missing neighbours’ house using a long-forgotten spare key.
In Evie and Alton, the 60-something neighbours, Molly seems to find a metaphor for the dislocation of returning home as an adult: the way everything seems washed out and greyer and shabbier, people are thinner or fatter or just older, the passage of time legible upon them in a way it isn’t always on your own parents. It’s a subtly sad and captivating beginning, shot through with the mix of frustration and anger and surprise and sorrow and relief and nostalgia that can accompany returning home—even when, as Molly notes, you’ve been away for almost as long as you ever lived there.
But Molly gradually leaves this personal perspective on Evie and Alton behind, and when she does, the show begins to drag. They are most interesting as a lens through which to see Molly’s own memories of her youth in Liverpool: the awkwardness of visiting your neighbours’ home alone for the first time as a shy child, the retrospective embarrassment of having turned your six-year-old nose up at the food they offered you; the weight of first cat-sitting responsibilities, and the sense of proud, temporary ownership over someone else’s home.
But when we begin to dig into Evie and Alton’s past for its own sake, the storytelling feels less intimate and urgent. Taylor is a great writer, at her strongest when she’s most irreverent and personal, and she’s a compelling performer, too. But the most interesting parts of Evie and Alton’s story are those that are, frankly, not Taylor’s to tell: the story of an interracial couple in 1970s Liverpool. Alton’s silence after he goes missing for two days during the 1981 race riots. The snippets of his past that he can only tell to a boy of colour they are looking after, but has never told his white wife. Taylor seems to sense that this is territory upon which she really can’t fully tread, and they are just glimpses, firmly anchored in Evie’s point of view.
Otherwise, it’s just a love story that’s lent most of its poignancy by the fact that we know both participants are now gone. After a long detour into clichés about childlessness, I found myself wondering whether Alton and Evie were real—I assume they are—and whether these stories about them were true. Did Taylor really stitch together stories she’d been told about her neighbours’ life together, or did she see a black man married to a white woman, a 60-something couple with no children, and extrapolate a past? Such fictionalisation is interesting, too—but if that’s the case, a shame that Taylor’s assumptions about their lack of children in particular are so traditional.
After such a captivating start, it’s a shame that the play drags to the finish. It’s fitting, in a way: Molly doesn’t know where she’s going to end up, either. But I care much more about her journey, her memories, than the neighbours whose story is already done.
Extinguished Things is on at Summerhall until 26th August 2018. Click here for more details.