Mouthpiece @ Traverse Theatre

Kieran Hurley's latest play Mouthpiece is an outstanding, powerful and gut-punching piece of theatre

Review by Tabitha Fallace | 08 Aug 2019
  • Mouthpiece @ The Traverse Theatre

"Everyone has a story" says Libby, brimming with well-meaning encouragement. "Naw", replies Declan bluntly. "Some ay us just have lives". This gut-punching, funny and brutally honest play examines our fascination with real-life stories and the tricky subject of artistic appropriation through the lens of two very different Edinburgh locals. 

Kieran Hurley’s characters are instantly recognisable and believable, as though they have been plucked from the streets of Edinburgh mere moments before. His writing is accomplished, humorous and authentic. He both rigorously obeys and rebels against form in this sophisticated piece that jibes at the limitations of narrative to convey human lives, which, in the words of Declan, “don’t just end where you say they do”.

Shauna Macdonald plays Libby, a struggling middle-class playwright looking for a story, while Angus Taylor takes on the role of Declan, a young, working class artist who she recruits as her muse. Initially, the teenager is flattered and empowered by Libby's interest in his work. That is until the rug is ripped from under his feet, and he's expected to be thankful for the opportunity. 

Both Macdonald and Taytor are outstanding. The relationship between the two is at points as hopeful, or as strained, as a single delicate filament destined to blow, and Taylor attacks the role with an energy that is palpable. Orla O'Louglin's direction is pacy, physical and poignant – she complements Hurley's work in all the right places, while maintaining a gritty naturalism that seeps right into the stalls. 

Can cross-class relationships prosper? Can cross-class colloboration work? Maybe – but when one assumes to enlighten the other it forays into dangerous, and all too well-worn territory. Mouthpiece is a lesson in authenticity to us all. Libby speaks of the industry desire to be “political enough to make people feel good about themselves for having ‘engaged’ but not to actually provoke anyone to do anything about anything”.

If this is the case, then Hurley has torn up the rule book. Anyone leaving the Traverse with anything other than the weight of injustice pressing down on their heart isn’t paying attention.

Mouthpiece, Traverse Theatre (Traverse 2), until 25 Aug (not 12), various times, £15-21 (returns only)