Mouthpiece @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Kieran Hurley's provocative and stark two-hander explores the class divide in society and theatre, and asks: what are we going to do about it?

Review by Amy Taylor | 21 Dec 2018

Twilight. Two characters from opposing backgrounds that just so happen to find themselves on Salisbury Crags at the same time. Libby (Neve McIntosh) is a washed-up middle-aged playwright hoping to end it all, while Declan (Lorn Macdonald) is a working-class and gifted teenage artist trying to escape his difficult homelife for a few hours. But what transpires over the next 90 minutes of Kieran Hurley’s provocative and stark two-hander Mouthpiece, directed by Orla O’Loughlin, is not just the story of an unlikely friendship and a doomed creative project. This is self-aware political theatre for an excluded generation.

What follows is not just a dissection of the divide between the classes in The Athens of the North, but also the divide in theatre itself. While Declan sees Libby as someone who can help him grow his artistic talent, and maybe even help him and his family live a better life, for Libby he is a tool for her career, and she makes herself the Mouthpiece of the title. His words, her voice. It’s a play that points a weary finger at the problems in theatre and questions its own role in the scheme of things.

Macdonald and McIntosh are utterly captivating in the play, which many critics have dubbed O’Loughlin’s swansong as it’s her final show as the Traverse’s Artistic Director. But Mouthpiece isn’t O’Loughlin’s final act; it’s a defiant throwing down of the gauntlet. Mouthpiece is, principally, a play about the failure of capitalism. Secondly, it’s a play about theatre’s theft of working-class voices, like Declan’s, who we often only hear through the mouths of theatre makers, who are often unmistakably middle class, like Libby.

We know, as an industry, that the voices we hear and the people who hear them are not always the ones that need to speak and be heard the most. What Hurley and O’Loughlin are saying with this play is, “We all know this is a problem, what are we going to do about it?” The saddest thing that could happen with this show is that it is well-received and then never heard from or spoken of again; that would make it a swansong. For it to become a true theatrical call to arms, we need to take stock, listen and see where the boundaries of theatre lie and – like Hurley and O’Loughlin – push at them with all our might.

Traverse Theatre, until 22 December: