David Harrower’s bleak and often filthily funny monologue (brace yourself for ‘Romanian cunt juice’) is performed by Blythe Duff, who last year starred in Harrower’s short play, Good With People, also at the Traverse. It tells the story of a woman dragging herself up from nothing and trying to hold herself together in a shady, vengeful man’s world.
Ciara is a gallery owner in Glasgow with a dodgy dead dad and an equally unsavoury husband, whose petty gangster activities invade her carefully constructed life and shatter the ‘closed, extravagant world’ of well-to-do art collectors.
It’s all very elegantly put together, as Ciara holds court in a vast empty warehouse (her next creative venture) designed by Anthony Lamble, dressed in deep blue and first orating from a scabby-looking armchair before striding across the stage, occasionally leaning dramatically against concrete pillars like a foul-mouthed soprano in some gritty Glaswegian opera. It’s also well paced; Duff keeps the audience hanging on with snappy comic timing, as well as an ability to inhabit an impressive cast of characters. These include a four-year-old, a policeman and whole host of seedy old patriarchs. There are a couple of slip-ups and a line has to be cued at one point, but this is more than forgiveable in an early showing, and nothing that won’t be ironed out over the run.
The tale Ciara tells is a tangled one, darting between time frames as quickly as Duff shifts characters. Her father Mick, feared across the city but fiercely protective over Ciara as a child, keeping her as ‘Rapunzel in a tower’, leaves a legacy of violence and grudges that Ciara finds impossible to leave behind. ‘I have his hands’, she reflects, and ‘my eyes began in him’. Her husband Brian idolises Mick, and has similarly violent tendencies, with predictable consequences. There’s also a present-day plot involving an artist Ciara’s commissioned, whose sketches of a ‘she-giant’ reclining over the city transfix her, but these many narrative strands are not interwoven in a particularly harmonious way. ‘How do we keep producing men like this?’ she asks, but there’s a few too many men, and too many characters in general, to make this a truly engaging drama.
The shifts in lighting add some dramatic tension, as do the intermittent bursts of music. But the plotting is rather uninspiring and, as a whole, it’s just not sufficiently gripping or emotionally affecting enough a piece to earn the swelling strings that play us out.