Reviewed – 15th May 2019
“this would benefit from being condensed into the powerful drama that is aching to come out”
Hidden under our feet is an information superhighway that speeds up interactions between a large, diverse population, allowing individuals who may be widely separated to communicate and help each other out. This isn’t the internet. We’re talking about fungi: a mass of thin threads that link the roots of plants. The tree in your garden is probably hooked up to a bush down the road. This ‘wood wide web’ even has its own version of cybercrime, but for the most part ‘Mycorrhiza’ is a process of give and take. Our plants are interacting with each other, just trying to help each other survive.
Writer Luke Stapleton has adopted this for the title of his debut play running at The Space as part of the ‘Foreword Festival’ of new writing; and although the botanical reference runs through the bedrock of the text, it focuses on the two characters and their own complex relationship with each other and their back stories. The story opens to the soundtrack of the Scots rock band, Biffy Clyro, appropriately singing the words: ‘happpiness is an illusion’, while Dean (Scott Afton) and Alicia (Corrina Buchan) are schoolkids stranded on a remote Scottish island as the tide comes in, with no option but to wait until dawn. Flash forward six years to the same beach where they reunite and try to make sense of the intervening years, and of each other.
These two characters are naturally portrayed, with fine performances, by the two actors. On the surface they are the antithesis of each other yet are two sides of the same coin. Afton subtly depicts the tongue-tied anger that lies beneath Dean’s introversion while Buchan skilfully lets us know that beneath her thick-skinned, nervy brashness is a soul that is truly hurting. Buchan’s performance is the more polished and believable, but it is essentially Dean’s story and his struggle with his own masculinity; the cause of which is revealed in a final heartfelt monologue. It is only because he believes Alicia is sleeping and cannot hear that Dean is finally able to give voice to what he has been through.
But the struggles to communicate are also reflected in Stapleton’s struggle to get to the point. There is some fine writing on display with its stinging observations and sharp dialogue that reminds us sometimes of Irvine Welsh. But there is a lot of moss that needs to be stripped away to let us get right to the roots. At ninety minutes it feels long and rather than try to build on this to create a full-length show, this would benefit from being condensed into the powerful drama that is aching to come out. We are not helped by Sepy Baghaei’s staging that sometimes weakens the action and, with a backwash of clumsy transitions, drags it back.
Ultimately, though, a lot of food for thought is washed up and we can pick and choose what we take away with us. It may not be brand new, but it is slightly twisted which makes us look at the issues in a different way.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
The Space until 18th May
Previously reviewed at this venue: