Under the Ground, performed by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, continues at Assembly Checkpoint until 30 August (in repertoire, alternating with Willy’s Bitches).
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★
Primarily set in an underground train, this charming new show by Katie Barnett and Megan Hughes is God’s gift to people-watchers. Who amongst us hasn’t had a peek around at travelling companions and put together a story for them? A soundscape sets the scene of idle chatter – the background noise of other people’s conversations – sometimes sad, sometimes funny and often mysterious.
The piece is very detailed and busy to the point of frantic – every person is either on a phone, reading or listening to music – engrossed so thoroughly in their own little bubble that keeps them passively occupied. Even the musicians in the band are constantly occupied when not playing! The direction sets a frantic pace that makes the moments of stillness and genuine solitude clear focuses for the audience’s attention.
The range of characters and situations at first glance seem somewhat stereotypical, but that’s only a first glance. These characters and situations have clearly been plotted by every actor and conveyed at just the right speed to take the audience into their story. If there’s one thing that comes through in the play, it’s that cliches are oft-repeated because they are truthful at the roots. We use them to communicate how we feel in broad strokes that others can recognise.
The music is gorgeous – a clarity and simplicity that is beautifully sung and matches the characters and situations perfectly. One ballad stood out, ‘My Little Girl’: truly moving and told a character’s complete story very effectively.
As the train journey ended and the house lights came up, a member of the audience behind me said: ‘No – I wanted it to go on for at least another hour!’ I turned to him and said that I think it could – in his head, at least, as we’re all taking the people away with us. He smiled broadly: ‘True!’
Try and get a ticket on this train – it’s wonderful!
* Readers may also be interested in:
Willy’s Bitches – Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – Review
Urinetown – Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – Review