The Drift – Traverse Theatre

The Drift is a spoken word piece written and performed by Hannah Lavery. It gorgeously asserts the active nature of history in Scotland today. In 2014, Lavery’s father died just when they were starting to talk after a period of estrangement. In The Drift, Lavery explores how her uncertain relationship with her father informed and defined her relationship with Scotland as a person of ‘mixed’ ethnicity, and how that link is just as important today as it ever was.

The word ‘Drift’ is shown to be a framework of thought that can be used to look at almost anything. Here, it is connected to two themes I deeply appreciated. The first is how people’s childhood experiences influence their adult life. Time is non-linear, and feelings and ideas from the past, present and future can ‘drift’ into each other like currents in an ocean. There can be many different drifts and directions at once. For instance, Lavery explores how her father was angry with a lot of things in Scotland that he should have been angry about, but he didn’t know how to channel it and so took it out on his family. Today, Lavery sees her own rage about similar things as both sweet and dangerous because of her initial impressions about the value of rage.

The second theme is how people ‘drift’ across the world. Lavery’s ancestors moved around the world so much that she can’t answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ easily. I loved the debate between Lavery’s romantic view of Scotland on its own and her feeling that it has forgotten the international ‘drift’ of its past inhabitants: ‘So f*** you, my sweet forgetful Caledonia.’ Lavery is honest about the sadness of feeling forgotten, as she is about the importance of her childhood experiences. Throughout history, but in its own way today, emotions have been denied as a weakness with a ‘get on with it’ attitude. This show is a bold argument for the right to feel and how feelings can strengthen you, even if you don’t know what you feel.

In part because she is so honest and connected to her emotions, Lavery is an intensely original and natural actress. There seems to be many emotions simultaneously interlocking in her delivery, but it never feels unfocused. The writing ‘drifts’ through time and place like the themes do and doesn’t feel confusing. The set is cosy in a Scottish way but incorporates items that are difficult to trace to a country or region. The acting, writing and set link to the theme of ‘drift’: many different influences and parts, but all being connected and none being more important than the next.

The key, and rather substantial, downfall of this performance is the slow pacing of Lavery’s delivery. Even though her acting is brilliantly creative, it leaves you waiting to hear the end of sentences and creates a sense of stagnation which is the opposite of what the play is trying to bring across. I think faster pacing is the absolute key thing that could lead to a masterpiece of a performance in the future.

Overall, ‘The Drift’ challenges its audience to re-examine how they look at Scottish history through themes of race, time and space. It is primarily set in Edinburgh and Dunbar, so is an exciting lens through which people living here can get back in touch with their surrounding’s roots.

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James Sullivan

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