Printable CopyMOUTHPIECE
The Adelaide Festival
Odeon Theatre
Until 14 Mar 2020

Review by Chris Eaton

After the positive reception to 2019’s Ulster American, Traverse Theatre Company of Scotland have returned to Adelaide with the challenging, stirring Mouthpiece by writer Kieran Hurley, directed by Orla O’Loughlin.

Mouthpiece features two hands: Libby (Shauna Macdonald), a writer, and Declan (Angus Taylor), a gifted artist. Libby has returned to Edinburgh from London after two decades where a promising career as a writer in her twenties has ebbed to nothing, leading to her residing with her mother and at the play’s opening contemplating leaping from the crags (hills or mountains) to her death. Declan, impoverished and member of a broken home saves her from this act, as he was nearby and uses the crags as a vantage point to draw the city below.

The lives of both characters have intersected with Hurley’s, influencing and moulding the way in which he looks at privilege and power, universal themes beyond the Edinburgh setting as evidenced by a recent Turkish adaptation, where Istanbul is in place of Edinburgh.

Libby is moved by Declan’s skill as an artist and seeks to expose him to what he could make of his talent. As the story moves this venture gives way as Libby inevitably realises that Declan’s life would make a great story, a play to return her to the spotlight. From her attention, Declan begins to grow in self-confidence, and begins to rely upon Libby emotionally.

Taylor’s thick Scottish brogue as Declan makes the dialogue at times almost unintelligible in the early scenes, but this works to inform the vulnerability and anxiety of his character. Taylor effortlessly makes you invest and care for Declan as he tells Libby of his little sister Sian whom he loves most of all, his mother and her violent partner Gary. Macdonald as Libby gives an equally strong performance, though her use of Declan’s story and abandonment of a character the audience has begun to care about made this reviewer dislike Libby, in spite of her well-meaning motives. Hurley also uses Macdonald in an aside direct to the audience, coldly detailing the arc of the relationship between the two characters. Who is this person? A lecturer? An educator? Is Hurley making a commentary about the predictability of theatre? It’s not clear, though it does ably segment the action.

The direction by O’Loughlin keeps the pace rapid and movements across Kai Fischer’s multilevel, picture frame stage are pointed and effective. Breaking of the fourth wall late in the play also is done with great care, which leads the play to its splintered, incendiary conclusion.

Hurley (through Declan) makes the point that the story of Declan doesn’t end when the house lights come up. Whilst we leave the theatre and go home in our cars, the tragedy of life continues and theatre at times merely pays lip service to it.