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How to Disappear review – why the benefits system is on another planet

Traverse, Edinburgh
Morna Pearson’s hopeful social satire about a struggling family in troubled times takes an unexpected turn into a parallel universe

Imagine the dysfunctional world of Buried Child by Sam Shepard or Killer Joe by Tracy Letts, but for backwoods America substitute the farther reaches of north-east Scotland. This is the territory playwright Morna Pearson has claimed as her own. In plays such as The Artist Man and the Mother Woman, she has looked with grim humour on the socially excluded, observing the damage to vulnerable children caused by drug-addicted mothers, absent fathers and abusive adults.

So it is in How to Disappear, where the school-age Isla has become the primary carer for her agoraphobic big brother Robert after the death of their mother and departure of their father. In an airless Elgin bedroom, realised rather too literally by Becky Minto’s boxed-in set, Isla finds refuge from her bullying classmates while Robert maintains a neurotic schedule centred on the broadcast times of Neighbours and the feeding schedule of his pet tarantulas.

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