Tron Theatre presents a brilliant production, written and directed by David Harrower, of a contemporary and rather kitchen-sink-esque play. A Slow Air sees two very believable characters telling their individual stories in the form of mammoth monologues. Taking turns to speak, they never acknowledge the other’s presence, though we do discover that their plots are interwoven. Harrower’s accomplished Scottish play premiered at The Tron Theatre, Glasgow in May of last year as part of the Mayfesto festival, and since then has leapt from the Edinburgh fringe to New York, and back to Britain.
First we meet Athol (Lewis Howden): he seems affable, approachable and natural, yet clear, as he delivers the introductory part of his monologue. As a contrast, Morna (Susan Vidler) is brash, bolshy and more ‘in your face’; harder to like, but with her own charm. Their accounts are somewhat saddening and gritty, and are told on a suitably bleak set. It is pretty bare, apart from a chair for each actor and a narrow column of wall upstage centre. Stage right is ever so slightly raised, and there is a jagged crack down the centre of the space, possibly representing the metaphorical and physical divide between the estranged characters.
The subject matter is largely depressing, but there is a lot of humour in this excellent text, which is very well conveyed by each actor. If the acting standard was not as high, and the humour less successfully portrayed, this performance could easily have left its audience in a sombre state.
The piece is delivered at a healthy pace and feels quite polished. It is a heavy weight, however, for two actors to keep this burdened play buoyant and interesting for an hour and twenty minutes without an interval. Predominantly, they are successful, and I have only high praise for them. There are just a few moments though, mainly in the earlier half of the play, when our attention wanders. I think sometimes the text could do with just a little more variation, and that the format of swapping back and forth between each character could be altered slightly (perhaps at shorter intervals) in order to achieve utter clarity and keep our attention at its peak. On the other hand, I do enjoy the the fact that Harrower has resisted the temptation to ‘decorate’ his piece. The company display this play in its simplest form and it is very effective.
The play gets better and better, the actors too (although they started at a high level). At times, Howden and Vidler are captivating, both of them immersed in their very real worlds, creating truly believable characters. We feel sympathy for them; we don’t have to try to follow their stories because we genuinely care about them - a true compliment to these fine actors. Not only are their own characters quite real, but they also create bold impressions of other characters we never meet in this two-hander by talking about and impersonating them occasionally. Sometimes it seems as if there are more than two people in front of us.
Nearing the end of the production their stories come closer together in time and proximity; they are almost telling the same part of the story, at the same time, from different perspectives. It feels like they are having a conversation, yet the characters never actually address each other directly in the entire play.
Harrower’s production is quite gripping, and, by the end, really rather touching. It is a fine example of acting given by two talented performers who portray an emotional yet entertaining piece of theatre.