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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Rowan Rutter in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre present




by Iain Finlay Macleod


Director – Jacqi Honess-Martin


Designer – Kate Lane


Movement Director – Shona Morris


Lighting Designer – Neill Brinkworth


Sound Designer – Tim Middleton


Finborough Theatre


6 - 21 November 2011
(on Sundays and Mondays)

Atman is a brief, consuming two-hander which invokes a whole range of serious themes such as faith and mortality and explores the gap between fiction and reality. This is the English language premiere of the play which was originally written in Scots Gaelic. The plot revolves around a lonely librarian, A (Lucy Griffiths), who has recently reassessed her friend-pool in “the great clear-out”, and a sardonic therapist figure, B (Matthew Spencer) who gets drawn far deeper into her troubles than any professional should. Upon taking a wrong turn at work A is compelled to pick up a book which seems to contain her life story right back to her earliest memory and B, in an effort to endow her with a sense of control, suggests she add some pages. The results of this experiment are both unexpected and perturbing.

Iain Finlay Macleod has stated that Atman was inspired by the works of Jorge Luis Borges and this influence is glaringly obvious, as time weighs heavily on the characters and infinity is a recurring concern. The library where A works hopes to house not only all the books ever written, but also, all the books that could ever be written. This absurd ambition, ridiculed by B as an impossible, potentially infinite task is reminiscent of the plot in Borges “The Library of Babel”. The set revolves around two simple chairs which are moved around by A and B between therapy sessions when the lights fade and an almost constantly ticking invisible clock gets louder, indicating the passing of time between sessions and the weight of time on the play as a whole. A and B never refer to each other by name, giving them Everyman status and providing scope for different interpretations of the play - A and B have been played by two male actors in previous productions.

The comedy in Atman is disconcerting; B is a therapist who struggles to empathise and for someone whose art is supposedly listening, he is apparently, not so good at it. This is the source of the most comic moments, his exasperation is so acute and well realised that laughter follows many of his more direct and unfeeling observations. The naïve and bewildered approach to life taken by A, who freely admits to seeing it as a game, is in stark contrast to the empirical and rational approach of her therapist. This juxtaposition of points of view is important in the exploration of the themes raised, but is also the force behind the comedy in the play. The mismatched pair, teamed with a snappy, clever script, delivers some wonderfully comic moments.

A wears a long flowing blue dress which she folds over, wraps around her hands and swings about her throughout the action, re-enforcing her view of life as a game and bringing a childlike quality to her character. In contrast, B wears a clean cut grey suit and white shirt. The feet of both characters are bare for the entire play, eliminating the sense of formality that might otherwise be present, suggesting an ethereal note to the play itself which is obsessed with reality and perception.

Through a series of therapy sessions the audience sees the drama unfold and the characters develop to include a stark power-shift. Atman is a surreal and thought provoking endeavour which questions the power of fiction and it is performed at the Finborough Theatre by two excellent actors with tangible on-stage chemistry.


Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
Tickets: £13, £9 concessions

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