Mind the gap – and the rats – tonight

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Borders Banter, a comedy double bill written by two local playwrights Oliver Eade and Dorothy Bruce, is being performed by Odd Productions Theatre Company in Selkirk’s County Hotel on Friday, November 30, at 8pm.

To give Souters a taster of the two shows in The County’s Scott Room tonight, Russell Bruce reviews the premier last Friday in Smailholm for The Wee Paper.

These two one act plays, The Gap by Oliver Eade and See Them Rats by Dorothy Bruce, are linked by the same social problem: dysfunctional families and dishonest relationships, but have very different approaches.

The communication gap that exists between members of a family, husband and wife and parents and child, has a physical embodiment in Oliver Eade’s play The Gap, which was short-listed for the 2009 Rowan Tree One Act Play competition.

A chasm opens up in the earth separating the eastern and western hemispheres. It also cleaves the Moscrop’s family home in two, with the parents on one side and their daughter and cat on the other. During the course of the play the two hemispheres continue to drift apart, as do their lives.

The idea is innovative and hugely ambitious. How do you represent this phenomenon on stage in a hall with little performance space? Represent it you must, because that’s what gives this play its impact.

Kath Mansfield as the self-obsessed wife was capable of ignoring the widening chasm with trivia. Richard Nisbet alternated from sensitive father to horrified husband with ease, while daughter Miriam, played by Kirsty Jobling, developed maturity and understanding of her parents’ foibles as the gap widened.

One sensed that the director Kath Mansfield had struggled with the physical representation required, but had been innovative in her solutions. The play was fascinatingly different, thought-provoking, and effortlessly acted.

‘See Them Rats’ had a more mundane location – a rat-infested scrapyard. It tells the story of three homeless men who have made their home in a derelict bus. Picks, Bosey and Gearchanger see the bus, not only as a place of shelter but a family home. They have their aspirations – the privacy of curtains, a piece of carpet and a joy ride in a tank.

David Bon, Tom Hudson and Andy McGregor extract every ounce of character, humour and pathos from their beautifully-written lines. In fact, the dialogue is spoken in flowing, almost melodic, lilting Scots which appears both realistic and effortless. Their established banter and disagreements are suddenly given a new dimension when sculptor, Sylvia Coldstream, appears looking for scrap metal for a new work.

Sylvia is the educated, middle class intrusion into, what society would deem to be, a group of dysfunctional social misfits. Elsie Horobin’s Sylvia Coldstream was played with subtlety, depth and wonderful timing.

Her eventual desire to take the illiterate, art-loving Picks under her wing was painstakingly developed and utterly believable; as was her decision to accompany this scruffy trio to an army camp to joy ride in a tank.

The play’s finale incorporates a surprising twist, gunfire, grenades, red panties and assorted bras. What more could an audience wish for?

This is a play about seperation, alienation, and family breakdown all wrapped in humour and fed by the indomitable human spirit – difficult subjects which are approached with sensitivity and skill, minimal set, accomplished acting and Kathleen Mansfield’s ‘unfussy’ directing. Quite outstanding.

z Tickets cost £7 (£6 for under 16s), available on the door, or by telephoning The County on 01750 721233.

After tonight’s performance, Borders Banter continues its tour around regional venues at The Wynd Theatre in Melrose on Saturday, December 1 at 8pm (Tel: 01896 820028 or 01896 822013), and Westruther Village Hall on Saturday, December 8 at 7.30pm (Tel: 01578 740265 or 07817 604153).