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5 star review for Milk at the Traverse Theatre

2016 August 18
by Paul Vallely


Traverse Theatre

Edinburgh Festival

5 stars


The Traverse guarantees to read every play that is submitted to it. It costs a fortune but, if this first play by Ross Dunsmore is anything to go by, it’s really worth it.

A perceptive study of three couples it’s full of acutely-observed humour which darkens as the play proceeds to a charged close.

Two 14-year-olds, Steph and Ash, are in the foothills of their first relationship. Together they fantasise about their future. She will be a singer and a model and an actress who will go to Africa to “adopt a little black baby and bring him back in a Gucci bag”. He will be a game designer and a rap artist and make movies.

Their teacher Danny and his pregnant wife Nicole are about to have a baby. Nicole, in her late 30s is on the brink of fulfilling a long-awaited dream. She is hubristically confident she will be a perfect mother.

Their neighbours Cyril and May, both in their 90s are struggling to survive with no money for food or fuel. Afraid of the present live they in the past. They recall a prime in which Cyril liberated Europe in his tank and after the war they had a happy family, with food aplenty and a toddler son.

But for each couple things unravel. Steph – who is a bundle of colliding female hormones while her boyfriend Ash is still more fired up by the menu in Nando’s – turns her sexual fantasies onto her teacher. Nicole becomes distraught when it transpires her new baby can’t latch on for breastfeeding. And Cyril can’t steal himself to walk past the local youths and dogs to reach the shop for bread for his malnourished wife.

Milk is a metaphor for sustenance in the play in which the themes of food, sex and love intermingle. The resonances are not precise. It’s not clear where milk fits in the teenage relationship, nor what motivates the teacher in his minor transgressions in his relationship with his pupil, nor why the authorities haven’t intervened with the hungry baby or the starving old folk. But the social issues are background. This is a play about relationships and our need for love.

The cast is so strong it would be invidious to single out one actor. Orla O’Loughlin’s direction is pitch-perfect. The scenes move briskly but build a steady sense of tension. After the crisis she conjures a poignant moment of redemption. Funny, sharp and tender by turns it’s a play to make you laugh and cry.


an edited version of this review appeared in the i newspaper

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