The Monstrous Heart – Traverse Theatre

Written by Oliver Emanuel

Directed by Gareth Nicholls

Choking, claustrophobic, Mag’s cabin exists in an idyllic retreat many would desire, but others would suffocate within its freedom. Where the subject of nature vs. nurture arises, the concept of a monstrous mother is by no means recent. Oliver Emanuel’s The Monstrous Heart entwines nature so integrally with the narrative, as a force offering redemption for one, yet suffocation for another, that the brutal interruption of Mag’s daughter Beth only spells chaos.

A definitive stick of dynamite, Christine Entwisle spends a decent portion in, somewhat, of a controlled state, ready to blow. Cowed and beleaguered, despite her rejection of daughter Beth, we sympathise to an extent. Far from simpering, there’s a hint of a stoic woman who has perhaps been lost, or as it would seem, is merely hibernating…

Without an ounce of shame, Charlene Boyd’s self-destructive Beth is just as enrapturing to watch, as she is repulsive in manner. Gareth Nicholl’s direction, evidently liberating, pits Charlene Boyd against Entwisle in a compelling fashion. Boyd’s brazenness unhinged but articulate is troubling – but in actuality, she’s cobbled her pieces back together to seek answers, or perhaps vengeance. Thus far, we stick to the plains of reality – these are the squabbles which place themselves firmly in verism. That is of course until a certain bronze-coloured beverage knocks Mag’s off her wagon – here, straying into overwrought abstract, nature has a force to awaken within this mother.

We have, however, failed to address the Elephant Bear in the room. Lifesize, designed to perfection by Cécile Trémolières, it’s presence is of debate among the characters, but its symbolism goes far beyond mere spectacle. Voice-over work in the theatre is rarely a discussion, but Tanya Moodie’s voiceover for the bear, nature, however you wish to interpret, is driven with guttural passion.

With the pace of an extraordinarily slow badger watch, The Monstrous Heart has the grim appeal of a car crash, but in a hyper-slow motion. Refusing to look away, knowing that there is some form of carnage awaiting, but you know that you should. As layer upon layer is cut away, peeling itself to reveal a gruesome secret, Emanuel’s writing steadily evolves but takes too long to get there, dragging out this family-reunion in the wrong places, burning the candle a too vigorously, then snuffing out the progression it illuminates.

What little lighting is utilised, is effective as a conveyer of emotional turmoil, or the bleakness of the mountain’s chill. Gradually dipping, a storm hailing beyond the door, sunlight fading out from the cabin. So subtle, yet effective, a shiver creeps up, taking us by surprise. At its most effective, as the door holds open, a thin blanket of snow covers the floor. The fading light all but gone, briefly illumined by the dying glow, it’s a final image which sums up the production in a chilling way.

Mother knows best, or at least, they often think they do. Emanuel’s production captures the ferocity of a mother-daughter relationship, dialling the emotional instability to the maximum. An argument centres on whether evil is born, or manifested, stems back to, well, as soon as we were able to articulate the question. As the piece’s referential homage to Shelley’s Frankenstein asks: are monsters born, made or is the creator, the parent, the true monster? The Monstrous Heart asks tough questions, tackles a monstrous mother, her twisted daughter, and cackles in the face of beauty.

Runs at The Traverse Theatre until November 2nd. Tickets available from: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/the-monstrous-heart

Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith – Festival Theatre

Warm-up Act by Johnny Mac

There are a few things which capture the richness of Scottish culture, art and theatre quite like actress, comedian, and all-around character that is Elaine C. Smith. Scotland’s auntie, there’s no better way to spend an evening than in the company of an entertainer who is just that – family. From The Steamie right through to Two Doors Down, Smith has been keeping Scottish smiles going through it all, and she has no intentions of stopping.

Warming us up, the home-grown talents of Johnny Mac offer a comforting jovialness to the evening, but while his passion may lie in ‘silly’ jokes, there’s a silver tongue lashing around. There’s a timeless quality to Mac’s set, striving not to rely on easily punchable targets in politics or fame, instead, he continues a familial feel. These are the sort of gags you share with your cousins or granny when she’d clout you round the ear if you swore. His work with Smith in the panto makes him a fitting warm-up act, drawing fire at the various regions of Scotland with pantomime mirth.

The glittering main event, naturally gifted, Smith is quite at home on the stage, treating it like the front room, stopping for a chat, regaling us the odd anecdote of her career – wedging them around honest humour which provides more than simple laughter. A cosy evening, a chance not only for Smith to entertain the audience, but to express her thanks for their continuing support.

In this age of comedy, it takes a great deal for a comedian to carry off jokes which centre around the archaic notions of ‘men and women’, and yet, Smith is capable of keeping these alive. Not only this, current with insight on the changing dynamics of gender, Smith touches on her championing attitudes for woman across Scotland. Complete with a stirring rally cry for those of us in an industry where, things are never easy, especially for women, and that the illusion of being handed fame on a platter may seem tempting, but soon the meal grows cold.

Never forget – Smith has pipes. It’s no secret, star of the Susan Boyle musical I Dreamed a Dream, Smith has taken to the roles of Miss Hannigan, Betty in Fat Friends and a staple of Glasgow and Aberdeen’s pantomime history. This evening, however, any ideas of a comedic singer, with vaudeville roots are displaced as Smith delivers a tingling rendition of I Will Survive, alongside a special guest. Marvellous control, it takes a tremendous restraint to equalise tempo with an operatic performer – without straining to override the performance, Smith blends the harmonies.

Not only here for the comedy, we’re also after a right good gab. It wouldn’t be an evening with if we didn’t have a few insights into the woman behind the performances. Regrettably, rather than taking live questions from the audience, Smith is instead prompted with a selection of social media questions. The answers we receive are enlightening, enjoyable, but have an air of rehearsal. With such a wit, it’s a shame Smith isn’t able to cut loose and fire back into the crowd who no doubt have a few hidden gems among them.

Kindly, Elaine offers translations for the awfy posh folk of Edinburgh, the mark of a true Lady. It’s the smallest of punches like these, that offer a sense of playful welcoming. Smith is a Scottish woman through and through. West coast born, as one of the few Glaswegians who loves Edinburgh, Smith is a representative of Scotland. All of Scotland. No matter if you’re a Dundonian, Teuchter, Buddie, Fifer or an unfortunate Aberdonian, Elaine C. Smith is a treasure we all share.

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith was performed at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.