Two shipwrecked women stand on the shore at an indeterminate time and in an indeterminate place. The situation suggests a story with an epic proportions: Sebastian and Viola in Twelfth Night; the shipwrecked Odysseus. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which Zinnie Harris cites as her inspiration for the play, mentions shipwreck only once. Orpheus, taken along by Jason on the mission to capture the golden fleece, saves the Argo from crashing by drowning out the sound of the Sirens. One of the songs he sings to Jason’s crew is about his wife Eurydice, who died from a snakebite. It tells how he sang his way down to the Underworld and charmed Hades to release her on condition that he did not look back as he ascended to the world of the living. But Orpheus turned and he lost her.
It is difficult not to find oneself subsumed by the frantic pace of Fringe time. Shows that exceed an hour running time are rare; get ins and get outs are less than twenty minutes. Meet Me at Dawn forces you to slow down, to be patient, to wait. It is a play in which information is not forthcoming. The rules of the playworld are unknown – perhaps even unknown unknowns. At first, I found this frustrating. Yet through the Beckettian, terse dialogue and poised performances from Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Neve McIntosh, Robyn and Helen’s relationship comes into tender focus.
Late in the play, things become clearer. Robyn is Orpheus. Helen is her Eurydice. For me, this was the part of the play that was most interesting and I wished it had got there sooner. Whereas the preceding part of the play focused on Robyn and Helen trying to work out where they were and how to escape, Meet Me at Dawn suddenly seems to expand into a new realm of grief. What would you do if you were granted one more day to spend with a lost loved one? Would that knowledge of your impending separation prevent you from enjoying the limited time you had together? Do the dead owe sympathy to the living?
In Orla O’Loughlin’s production, what is most touching is not the epic scope but the mundane details. The tap that Robyn watched overflow as she her mother took a call from the hospital about Helen is a focus of the set (designed by Fred Meller), which looks like the ruined hull of a ship. At one point, the basin fills to the brim and water cascades over its sides, although no one has turned on the tap. Robyn is both here with Helen on the shore and in the kitchen that used to be their kitchen, but is now hers alone. In Meet Me at Dawn, reality and imagination coexist in a twilight zone or, rather, they are both degrees of reality.
Meet Me at Dawn is on at Traverse as part of the EIF until 27 August 2017. Click here for more details.