You. It’s a short name for a monumental play, which explores – sensitively, but not sentimentally – the diverse stories surrounding the adoption of a little baby boy. The boy’s now grown into a strapping man, and he’s asked if he might meet the woman who gave him birth. She’s agreed, and as we wait with her – the minutes ticking down to the knock on her door – she recalls the tale of her earlier life, sharing hopes and fears for the reunion.
Playwright Mark Wilson’s writing is both economical and compelling. You covers a surprising amount of plot, yet it’s never hurried; it’s filled with a sense of purpose, with a clear and simple meaning for every line. The whole story is told in flashback, and Wilson cleverly segues between times and scenes, with switches in characters often signalled by the key word “You”. The two actors, Kathryn O’Reilly and Stephen Myott-Meadows, deliver these turn-arounds with admirable restraint; there are shifts in accents and bearing, but their various characters are united by far more than divides them.
And that’s an important point, because You is about how very different lives can become inseparably intertwined. Kathleen, a sexually-naive girl from a respectable working-class family, falls for a sordid tryst with teenage squaddie Frank – a young man whose sins are perhaps explained by the troubles of his own past. On the other side of the tracks we find Tom and Vanessa, whose near-perfect courtship is marred only by the fact they can’t have a baby. Admittedly, all these topics have been thoroughly examined elsewhere, but You is notable for its focus on the nuts and bolts of adoption: the terrible but necessary moment when the boy is taken from his birth mother, the way his adoptive mother steels herself for questions in later life.
Director Sarah Meadows deserves credit for many things, but above all for her daring staging. Eschewing the Rialto’s raised platform, Meadows presents You in a traverse layout, with the audience facing each other on either side of a narrow strip of floor. Using two simple chairs as the only set, the layout creates powerful possibilities for her hugely talented actors: when they stand at opposite ends of the corridor they seem distant and confrontational, yet a few paces into the middle of the floor brings them tenderly together. Emphasising the effect, the pair deliver certain lines directly to specific members of the audience – an electrifying device which pulls everyone into the world and mindset of the play.
Plenty of Fringe shows have a strong script, impressive actors, or creative direction. But it’s a rare and precious moment to find all three of those together. And when you sense you’re in such capable hands, your attention turns to those little details which make the story complete: the trusting smile of a baby, or the description of a mother who’s shaking so much she can’t even tie a scarf. I like to balance rave reviews with a criticism or two, but this time I have none to give; bold, tight and emotive, You is the complete Fringe package.