On the Exhale – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: Martin Zimmerman

Director: Christopher Haydon

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Take a deep breath. Martin Zimmerman’s 70-minute monologue takes us on a suspenseful ride through modern urban paranoias that we hope belong to a distant land and then realise maybe not.

Director Christopher Haydon had a big hit in this same studio space at the 2013 Festival with Grounded, the story of a female drone pilot who saw faraway violence drawing closer. On that occasion, the lone character was confined to a glass cage and here she is trapped in a maze of threatening metal rods, Haydon’s taut, gripping style evident from the very beginning.

The character is a teacher at an America High School, a single mother by choice who scoffs at attempts by friends to pair her up. She interviews an aggressive male student, fearful that he may be carrying a gun, feels embarrassed when offloading her anxieties to her therapist and questions why it should ever be necessary for anyone to display a sign indicating that guns are not welcome. What follows is dark, stark and disturbing.

Polly Frame shows us a woman who is rational, efficient and in complete control until, suddenly, she isn’t. She never speaks of herself in the first person, as if distancing herself from her own actions and emotions, thereby also distancing herself also from the audience. It is difficult to connect with this woman emotionally, but Zimmerman’s spare writing does not require us to do so, only to listen to her story and to understand her reactions when gun violence strikes at her own community. Contemplating retaliation, she is taught, chillingly, to breathe deeply and, on the exhale, pull the trigger.

Much of Zimmerman’s play is targeted at American law makers and the NRA, but, performed in a country that still feels the pain of Dunblane, no comfort can be gained from thinking that its concerns are only distant ones.

Runs until 25 August 2018 | Image: Sid Scott

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The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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