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On a nondescript twilight evening, an unemployed woman hovers by the edge of Salisbury Crags. There is gin in her hand and she has come to her wit’s end. As her worries begin to engulf her, she takes another step towards the rocky edge - but at the last second a young boy pulls her backwards and away from the dangers of gravity. Highlighting the bleak truths of poverty in Edinburgh, Mouthpiece confronts its audience with questions that leave a sour taste long after the final bow. 

So begins the unlikely relationship between Libby and Declan – two members of the same city, whose common ground seems only to extent to the similarity of their home turf. Declan likes to draw, but would never consider himself an artist. Artists are people who can afford to float around and order pretentious coffees and go for brunch. His doodles are just a hobby; and in his stepfather’s eyes a hobby that takes time away from paid employment. Libby, on the other hand, is a writer. But what does that actually mean? And can she still use the title of writer considering the long absence since her last work? 

Kieran Hurley’s masterful script effortlessly captures the essences of two supposedly opposing lives without resorting them to the caricatures of stereotype. In his nuanced exploration of how class and privilege intersect with the lived experience of a shared locality, Hurley asks to what extent the theatre is able to portray another person’s story without talking for them – or worse yet, taking their story away from them. As Libby begins to construct a work that explores poverty in Edinburgh, she takes inspiration from Declan. At first a champion for the marginalised; her script begins to build traction and finances are negotiated. But Libby is making money from Declan’s story while he continues to live it - at what point does inspiration become poverty porn?

Neve McIntosh is outstanding as Libby – the well-meaning writer whose privilege clouds her ability to write through a reflexive lens and who finds both solace and employment in the young Declan – played endearingly by Lorn Macdonald – a boy whose creativity is limited by the circumstance into which he was born.

Orla O’Loughlin’s direction is at once powerful and modest – carefully differentiating between the narrative and meta moments in order to confront the audience. Specifically, scenes in which Libby breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience through the framework of traditional literary guidelines serve as a stark reminder in indicating the role writers play in telling stories of which they have no personal experience. Through so clearly indicating that Mouthpiece is a piece of theatre, its plot is transformed from entertainment into reality. What may seem like a night out for the ticketholder does not merely end for its protagonists once the curtain has come down. 

A superb and harrowing diagnosis of society which examines the extent to which circumstance dictates both future and individual agency, Mouthpiece will work to inform, challenge and confront – a real must-see.

Mouthpiece runs at the Traverse Theatre until Saturday 22nd December 2018.