For Fest: Gazing at a Distant Star (Edinburgh review)

Siân Rowland’s three-hander boldly tries to unpick complex modern situations, but falls short, leaving underdeveloped characters struggling with subjects too big for them to carry.

From the tip of the pencil to the little lies told, everything in Gazing at a Distant Star is clean and white. Anonymous. Each of the characters is dealing with loss, of another and of their own identity. Arun (a gentle Harpal Hayer) blends into his cold-calling job, using the name Adam so as not to put people off by sounding too “ethnic”. Anna (an amicable Serin Ibrahim) reminisces about her sister’s potentially abusive partner. Karen (a broken Victoria Porter) sends a message to her missing son as she rides waves of guilt.

The play asks where responsibility lies, and who is to be blamed. What should they have done? Shouldn’t they have seen the signs? Couldn’t they have changed the end of these stories?

The exploration of these big questions lacks nuance. The meet-cutes are too easy, plot changes are dolloped heavily, and the twist that drives the second half of the play is easily guessed early on.

Rowland’s ideas are ambitious and her writing touches on delicate subjects worthy of discussion. The specific situation of Karen’s character—the mother of an attacker—is one unseen on most stages and increasingly relevant to our modern world, but the restricted form of the monologue Rowland provides her with limits her character to that of a victim. Combined with the other two stories, this script doesn’t carry enough weight to make an impact.

Original: Fest

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