Following an acclaimed run at the Traverse Theatre, Fringe First winner Kieran Hurley’s Mouthpiece has transferred to Soho Theatre for a limited run. This two-hander, set in and around Edinburgh, delves into the world of austerity & stifled opportunities, as well as questioning how seriously theatre takes its role. Are some theatremakers only in it for their own personal success, or do they want to effect real change?
Libby is at her lowest point. Stood on the edge of Salisbury Crags, she takes a gulp from her hip flask and gets ready to jump – but it turns out she’s not alone up there. This is Declan’s spot; he goes there to draw and calm himself down when his anxiety attacks get too much. He pulls Libby back from the edge (literally and metaphorically) and the pair develop an unlikely friendship. She opens his eyes to all of the art he can access for free, in a bid to encourage him to keep up his drawing, but ends up getting interested in his story – so much so, she decides to try and get back into the playwright game by penning something inspired by Declan’s life. But can their relationship withstand this added pressure?
One of the things Libby apparently wants to do is “give a voice to the voiceless” (though with little thought of what comes after), and this is something that you often do see in theatre: causes being championed and issues being aired, but then nothing happens. There are exceptions, as more productions try to go beyond the theatre walls, conducting outreach, doing more to bring in wider audiences, and fundraising for relevant charities throughout a show’s run – Section 2, Emilia and Lucy Light are all good recent examples of this in action. And what Mouthpiece does is challenge the industry to be better. Getting stories out there is all well and good, but these aren’t nature documentaries that are being made – you don’t just have to show what is happening then leave it to sort itself out naturally, you can do something to try and help.
The play is split up by sections of commentary from Libby, explaining how a piece is structured and the rules that writers tend to follow if they want their work to be a success. Initially it’s hard to see why these moments are included, but as the play progresses and you see what it’s really about, these contributions from Libby become more & more sinister; her plans and those of the protagonist diverge, and you begin to question what her true motives are. The stark design (Kai Fischer) and projections of select sections of text add in to this, as the production tries to overpower Declan and bend him to its will. Is there too much weight placed on the “final image”? Making something memorable only goes so far.
Neve McIntosh is believable as the troubled writer, who starts out on an altruistic mission but ends up helping herself to the spoils, however it’s Lorn Macdonald who really stands out. His straightforward (& often blunt) manner, coupled with his cultural naïvety make for a compelling and entertaining watch. Macdonald’s facial expressions are absolutely priceless, and his declaration towards the end about how he was going to sort things out (“I was going tae the fucking theatre”) is one of many memorable moments where the simplest thing becomes very funny. In contrast, his torment over his family life and changing relationship with Libby is utterly heartbreaking. A powerful watch.
My verdict? A powerful play that challenges the theatre industry to be better, and questions who stories truly belong to – one to think on.
Mouthpiece runs at Soho Theatre until 4 May 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.