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Canoe review at the Space, Edinburgh – ‘complex one-man show about grieving’

Matthew Roberts in Bread and Butter Productions' Canoe. Photo: Gary Platt Matthew Roberts in Bread and Butter Productions' Canoe. Photo: Gary Platt
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There is a complexity to Matthew Roberts’ one-man show, Canoe, which goes much deeper than the issue of grieving that lies at its heart.

Roberts’ rhyming narrative concerns successful children’s author David and his American partner Tom, whose two children have drowned in a canoeing accident on summer camp and the funeral is the next day. But wrapped in that is a love poem to children’s literature and a hard commentary on gay parenthood.

Roberts’ movement under Struan Leslie’s lucid direction goes a long way towards his delineation of David and Tom. It is a strong physical creation of character that also captures the nature of their grief, which is shown as slightly self-indulgent, more about the person grieving than the person lost.

It is telling that the children remain quite remote from the narrative, with only minimal recollection of their lives as David attempts, and fails, to write their eulogy. The arrival of their adopted son, Chris – now a father himself – and the revelation of his background just emphasises the mundane normality of the dead children’s lives.

It is nicely constructed – Leslie helped shape this one-man show from Roberts’ original four-character script – but is in danger of losing focus on which issue it is really trying to address.


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Complex one-man show uses strong physicality to understand grief and grieving