In her hauntingly beautiful play, Meet Me At Dawn, playwright Zinnie Harris considers how far one woman will go to forget her greatest loss. Following a boating accident that leaves a couple marooned on an unfamiliar island, we bear witness to a relationship tested by questions of what is fact, and what is devastating fantasy.
Orla O’Loughlin and her creative team shine once again, following on from previous Traverse successes such as Grain in the Blood. A desolate and dark stage sets the eerie tone of the play, as the two women find themselves unhinged by a barren landscape they do not recognise. Set in the rocky terrain is a washed-up sink, the tap occasionally dripping: little do we know that such a simple aesthetic will prove to be a strikingly symbolic feature of the play. Other than this, O’Loughlin lets her two leads fill the stage for themselves, and they do so remarkably well. While adeptly using the large open space on offer to them, Robyn (Neve McIntosh) and Helen (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) still manage to maintain an air of intimacy. Duncan-Brewster’s energy fills the entire stage, so upon Helen’s brief exits from the stage, it is incredible how exposed Robyn becomes.
Through the superb combination of O’Loughlin’s stage and Harris’ script, the two protagonists effectively explore the main themes of the play. Harris’ depiction of grief is raw and intense: she notes how our use of language can change when we suddenly find ourselves left behind. The challenges her protagonists must face – questions of who is to blame, and how to move on – are like a harsh wind splashing saltwater on our faces. The sting only intensifies as Robyn and Helen begin to accept the cards they’ve been drawn, the tension gradually increasing. Despite its depressing nature, Meet demonstrates Harris’ acute awareness of a feeling most of us would choose to forget.
This is an understanding shared by Harris and her female actors. McIntosh is stunning in her role as Robyn, with Duncan-Brewster’s Helen proving a perfect companion. She has a phenomenal presence on-stage, both as she interacts with Helen and remembers the cruel reality she tries so hard to escape. Her asides – in which Robyn looks through the audience with a dazed expression – are beautifully bewitching; her stream-of-consciousness-styled reasoning is lyrical without seeming contrived. Meanwhile, Duncan-Brewster exudes a sense of euphoria which captures the exhilaration that comes with surviving such an ordeal, preventing Meet Me At Dawn becoming 85 minutes of pure melancholy. Her exasperation at Robyn’s pessimistic outlook is wonderful, and behind her goofy persona lies a delicately-portrayed frailty. Gradually, Duncan-Brewster also falls victim to a vulnerability that overcasts the couple as a shock turn of events unfold.
At the heart of this play is a love story between two women, which is both beautiful and convincingly enacted by McIntosh and Duncan-Brewster. Despite the grievous pain both women endure throughout the play, it ends with a touching moment of acceptance, whimsical yet heart-warming. As much as Meet Me At Dawn may break our hearts, Harris gifts us with a beautiful moment between two lovers – a memory to last a lifetime.
Meet Me At Dawn
Until 27th August
Photo credit: David Monteith-Hodge