Claustrophobia

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): Claustrophobia at Zoo (Venue 124). Review by Billy Barrett

When a lift breaks down between floors in this nail-biting thriller, two strangers teeter on the brink of a breakdown as past trauma invades the present and they are forced to make small talk, confront their fears and piss into a Sainsbury’s bag.

Marked by only four strips of white tape on a black floor, the elevator becomes a space of social awkwardness, sexual tension and psychological strain. In less capable hands, the long wait to be rescued could lapse into pseudo-Beckettian tedium, but director Sharon Burrell – who conceived the idea leading to Jason Hewitt’s script – proves herself a master of minimalist stagecraft, and actors Jessica Macdonald and Paul Tinto craft two compelling characters never less than painfully believable.

Hewitt’s writing intercuts naturalistic dialogue with stylised flashback sequences and internal monologue, with the line between these becoming increasingly blurred. Burrell’s deft touch maps these out across the stage, as characters step out of themselves, out of the lift and into nightmare territory.

As a character study of how social structures collapse when extreme circumstances interrupt the everyday, it’s sharply observed and engrossing, but despite the evident talents of all involved, Claustrophobia falls short of lifting the situation into something truly extraordinary.

Until 25 August. Today 7:30pm.

Originally published in The Scotsman

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