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Theatre review: The Life of Stuff at Theatre503

  Monday 15th April 2013

A revival of Simon Donald’s acclaimed 1993 play, The Life of Stuff is a darkly comic snapshot of a group of people exposed as they get ready for a big night out in an Edinburgh nightclub.

Clever production instantly gives us the grungy scene: snatches of 90s dance music set the tone of what’s to come, with the garish strobe lighting similarly recalling crowded, sticky-floored nights out.

Our scenes shift quickly between roof, dance floor and basement, with the mood of each of our players similarly in flux. The comic dialogue is sharp, often scalding, while Director Paul Robinson does superbly in fleshing out each of the characters – especially the male leads – into well-formed portraits.

Nightclub proprietor and drug-pusher Willie Dobie likes to think of himself as top dog. But the audience quickly see something altogether lighter – limp, almost. In one memorable scene, he finds his sexual mores pushed to the limit by Holly, the “certified unemployable” party girl, thrill-seeking on her night out. Meanwhile Holly’s equally disreputable friend Evelyn crawls through ever-decreasing hoops in the hunt for her next fix.

Elsewhere, Dobie’s fixers Arbogast and Leonard (the former the aggressive henchman, the latter his nervous, neurotic apprentice) try to get the club in order before the party starts. Again, we are quickly shown more to these characters than their roles might suggest, with Leonard in particular superbly well-formed as a man conflicted between feelings of love and a deep, dangerous bitterness.

In the club’s dingy basement we also find Fraser, naïve and naked, trying to make sense of the scam that’s left him suddenly looking for a new identity in this less than salubrious location, while late night fixture Janice wastes no time in laying into him and anyone else in the way of her next bottle of booze.

Although the second half sags just a little, with each character on their own personal hunt for vengeance, freedom or just more mind-altering materials, The Life of Stuff as a whole remains a daring production. The play is modern, funny and alert, and yet also hugely chilling at times, as we see the dangers attached to lives lived in the dark.

Verdict: ••••

Martin Frimet

The Life of Stuff is on at Theatre503 until May 4th 2013, for further information or to book visit here.

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