Following a critically-acclaimed run at the Traverse Theatre (Edinburgh) in 2018, Kieran Hurley’s Mouthpiece tells the story of an unlikely relationship that develops between middle class writer, Libby and unemployed Declan, twenty years her junior. He pulls her back from the edge of the Salusbury crags where she is about to jump at the start of the play and she becomes fascinated by his troubled life. Either that, or it’s an elaborate metaphor for the creative process where characters save the life of the writer when they emerge and then resist destruction when the play needs to come to an end.

Hurley’s play reflects on the social inequality of the art world and considers what responsibility writers have to the characters whose stories they tell. But it is also a love story of sorts. Libby (Neve McIntosh) and Declan (Lorn MacDonald) are both depressed and drunk when they meet. Libby desperately needs inspiration and abused and neglected by his own family, Declan desperately needs someone to care about him. At first they are infatuated with each other, she encourages his own creativity, takes him to art galleries and artisanal café’s whilst he makes her laugh and gives her the ‘authentic’ voice she needs for her new play. After an embarrassing drunken fumble things begin to unravel between but their own creative journeys are far from over.

What’s unusual about the play, and is likely to appeal to anyone interested in writing, is the meta-theatre framing device. ‘Libby’ steps out of her role to advise us on the ‘ideal’ dramatic form as it develops, advising us that this is the first image, this is where you need something that raises the stakes of the relationship, if things are going well now, it usually means there’s trouble ahead etc Scene headings from the script are projected on the wall and increasingly, extracts of the dialogue too. If this self-consciousness detaches us from the drama with a wry smile, it also reaps emotional rewards when Declan talks to his little sister Sian and her ‘replies’ are represented as silent words in the script. Like reading a novel, we could hear the words in our head and the silent presence of that vulnerable character to great effect.

Hurley’s play offers much to think about in terms of the role of art in society and takes many humorous swipes at complacent middle class creative types. Whether or not the denouement is entirely believable, doesn’t really matter. What remains is a thrilling dramatic experiment and two extraordinary performances from Neve McIntosh and Lorn MacDonald who never get lost in the clever theatrical games.

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