David Harrower’s A Slow Air has a lot to live up to, following in the award-winning footsteps of his previous two-hander, Blackbird.
Though both plays feature a man and woman together on stage, the relationship in A Slow Air is entirely different to that of Una and Ray in its emotionally wrought predecessor. Morna and Athol are siblings in their 40s and, despite living only 50 miles apart, they don’t speak, and haven’t done for 14 years, until one day Morna’s son Joshua travels the short journey to Houston near Glasgow to make contact with his uncle.
Unlike many brothers and sisters, Morna and Athol are two peas in very separate pods. She screwed up, he settled down; she likes U2, he likes Simple Minds; she’s an aggressive, confrontational fireball and he’s an endearing, peaceable neighbour who yearns for a quiet life.
In the strong Scottish tones of Susan Vidler and Lewis Howden, the siblings tell different sides of the same story with interweaving monologues, alternating between recounting their perspective and regressing quietly into the shadows to reflect on their lives, their past and how there came to be such a void between them.
The state of their troubled relationship is reflected in Jessica Brettle’s fractured set, which is like a fault line in the Earth’s surface brought about by the violent tremors of an earthquake leaving in its wake a trail of destruction that needs to be reconciled. But there was no earth-shattering revelation or explosive event – like the oft-mentioned Glasgow terrorist attacks of 2007 – responsible for tearing this family apart.
Harrower’s play merely presents two ordinary characters in an ordinary situation, to which he adds his own subtle yet effective direction. Through their storytelling, Vidler and Howden evoke vivid images of their characters’ lives, and those around them who may not be physically part of the production but are undeniably present in our imaginations.
Though Harrower leaves many questions unanswered – what came of Josh’s obsession with the Glasgow terrorists and what made Athol agree to meet him that day after he’d caused so much trouble the last time? – this doesn’t seem to matter, because it is not the story that is at the centre of this play, but its characters.