IN a quiet way, the Scottish premiere of For Once, by Cardiff-based playwright Tim Price, represents a vital new beginning for the Traverse. It’s not a brand new play; as the last production staged by new artistic director Orla O’Loughlin for her Ludlow-based Pentabus company, before she came to the Traverse, it reflects the immediate past of her work, rather than the future.
Yet despite its simple domestic outline, Price’s piece has a depth and intensity that goes a long way to explaining his status as one of the most commissioned playwrights in the UK. Set in a rural town like Ludlow, the action takes place entirely in the living room of an ordinary family, and in the minds of the three characters, teenage Sid, and his Mum and Dad, April and Gordon. In part, it is a study of the problems faced by small-town kids; the family is in shock after the death of Sid’s three best friends in a car crash.
At a deeper level, though, the play reflects on the more general fragility of family life, and also on its strange enduring strength. Sid is driven nuts by his parents – his ambivalent relationship with his mother is beautifully observed. Meanwhile, April senses a crisis in her marriage; and Gordon has a secret life, involving gay encounters he can barely describe even to himself.
In the end, though, the three remain together, bound in a timeless triptych of love and grief.
And it’s a mark of Price’s poetic sharpness and skill that at the end, we fully understand just how many lies each family member must tell, to sustain their life together; and just why, after all, it might be worth it.