[The following contains spoilers.]
Sophie (Louise Collins) has surprised Tom (Paul Rattray) at home. They are exes of four years. He has long moved on from her, in acquiring his own business, a family, and all of the leaden accoutrements of suburbia. She appears to have resoundingly lost the competition, in remaining single, childless, and still in rented accommodation. We thus have to pick sides and I continue to have enough rebellion within me to prefer hers.
He is waiting for his wife and child to come home from the shops. Sophie has only a brief window to tell her story and make her pitch. Urgency is therefore crowding all around the pair. The play’s lion could burst in at any moment, ending the intense gladiatorial focus in an instant.
Whenever there are just two people on stage in a Fringe drama, they are invariably combatants. We might sense that we already know who and what Sophie is from previous, similar plays. Surely she is manipulative, treacherously deep, and no doubt here to blackmail Tom with some secret from his past. For a while, it seems to be going this way. The two are locked murderously in a spinning circle, but they are clenching cups of tea instead of the tridents and cast nets. He is very still and always careful in his tread, slowly prowling and with his head cocked quizzically. She is animatedly agitated. At first I thought that the actress was too manneristic, but either she works herself into the performance or else I come to be mesmerised by it. With the silken persistence of a stage mandarin, she shuffles and flits, back and forth, with her head slightly bowed where his is cocked. Her head wags and her hands weave in anguish in the air.
Gradually the story drifts away from itself. He wants to escape the past; she wants to resolve it. We thus have to pick sides again and I prefer his this time. Next they are wearing political colours: she is idealistic and wishes to correct what she sees as a miscarriage of justice; he is realistic and unsentimental. I am for her this time. We are told that he might have either exposed or concealed a crime, a vast life-changing ambiguity that, rather wonderfully, wobbles on a chance second of remembered or misremembered detail. This upside-down pyramid is a brilliant device, and yet what Tom remembers can be never practically cleared up. We trust both of these characters and the play would promptly collapse if we attributed bad faith to Tom.
“Tremor” is a gripping story but everything is unpacked slightly too early. In the last fifteenth minutes, we are in possession of basically all that this play has. After a final, misjudged spurt, the drama lands with an inelegant splat. Tom radiates a fascist relish for “taking back control,” in a hollow sort of Brexiteering Gothicism. Even in the Summerhall – a venue that literally – infuriatingly! – flies the EU’s spangled rag from its roof – this feels too crude.
Incidentally, “Tremor” also commits an unforgivable faux pas for a Fringe production. The couple’s conversation is occasionally interrupted by a mobile phone going off. Luckily it is Tom’s – his wife is calling – but frantic audience members still jump in their seats as though they have been shot. No play should ever do this to us.