FRINGE REVIEW – Subsist, Sweet Grassmarket


What is life? What is being human? What is surviving? Where does connection come in? What are the rules? Is it hope that is needed to keep on going? Is it acceptance? What is being real? Can anyone become a completely new person? What continues on? Can mistakes be left behind or will they forever repeat or ricochet no matter what is tried? What was the last thing someone said to you?

Does this all seem rather brain-draining? Part of some pretentious concoction? It isn’t. These are not questions hammered into your brain by direct interrogation, existentialist debate or theatrical alienation devices – these questions are the result of a simply produced piece of drama.

DBS Productions’ presentation of JD Henshaw’s Subsist is traditional theatre: a clear story directly shown, a basic black box setting with a few chairs, strong use of minimal lighting states and some very fine ensemble acting by Susanna Mulvihill, Lynne Campbell, Iain Martin, Paul J Creegan and Callum MacKaskill. On the surface, traditional types are portrayed – the chin-up chatterer, the shell-shocked sensitive, the decent bloke just trying to cope, the rough dark-horse, the outsider come to shake things up. These characters interact as people do, speaking perfectly understandably in normal speech but with more going on underneath. Any question about the believability of a character or situation comes back on itself, a criticism criticised by what the play raises, and the answer is yes – that does make sense actually, people do behave like that.

And all this takes place in a world that has been over-ridden by the walking dead. A world where endings can change – for this play has four different endings, decided by the secret drawing of lots by performers on the night. In such a structure what can ’subsist’ or ‘stand firm’? One answer – the quality of writing, direction and performance.

Back to questions – how to rave without hyperbole? How to express the quality of this piece without creating massive expectations for what is, in truth, a simple production, and yet wanting to share the experience, to get others to see the play, even realising that one only knows a quarter of the possible endings? 5 stars are not easy to come by – for that a show has to stimulate intellectually and emotionally, personal states have to shift.

Basically, this play about survivors holed up in a house and how they keep going – if they do – causes shifts, in thought and in feeling. It is not hack and slash horror, but suspense sliding subtly through your eyes, your ears, your brain. Sounds matter, sights matter and what people say matters.

This is the last thing I have to say to you here – it is important:

See Subsist.

By Danielle Farrow

4 – 21 August, 19:00 (20:00) @ Sweet Grassmarket

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