Tuesday, July 16

Sunset Song – Royal Lyceum Theatre

Dundee Rep in a major co-production with the Royal Lyceum Theatre bring a contemporary reworking of a piece of classic Scottish fiction for the next ten days, marking the end of an East coast tour through Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.

It is not surprising that the tour has stayed in sight of the North Sea given that almost the entire dialogue is performed in the Doric language native to the North East coast of Scotland. A script that would have had my sadly departed Mother-In-Law, Isobel, chortling away and no doubt reminiscing on her Invergorden crofting roots.

Much of the setting of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song would have been familiar to Isobel; the chains that bind you to the land, to family and hardship. The tears, the toil, the unending bleakness and the stoic endurance, which chained the women to the men, to the crofts and farms to the kitchen sink and cooker and marital bed. The multiple children that were such a vital part of the continuity of it all, and the wives eventually used up and spent like an over-farmed field.

And The land. Ultimately. Nothing endures but the Land.

And The land is on the stage, several tons of it at least. Four deep peaty furrows provide the stage for the cast of the Dundee rep. They work in it, play in it, love in it, fight in it and ultimately die in it.

Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

This is very much an ensemble piece with the company of eight extremely talented performers playing multiple roles and also musical instruments. The music that runs through the piece is evocative of the areas’ strong musical traditions and has both a sensitive and visceral quality. Composer, Finn Anderson does a particularly fine job of finding just the right line between sentimentality and authenticity, often with no words at all, just sounds and harmonies. The music here certainly adds markedly to the texture and sense of place of the production, it feels intimate and ‘correct’ somehow. The Lyceum’s superior sound desk and crystal clear acoustic work their usual wonders.

In this coming-of-age tale, Danielle Jam plays central character Chris Guthrie with a sensitive and spell-binding performance, which has you rooting for her all the way in her unlikely dream of becoming a teacher. Playmate, Marget, played with a cheek abandon by Kirsten Henderson, has even loftier ambitions of becoming a doctor. Chris complains that she’s , ‘like an unplowed field, waiting to come alive’

Ali Craig puts in a strong performance as Chris’s domineering father, John, whilst Roni Hawthorn provides the hugs and reassurances to the children as his long-suffering wife, Jean.

When tragedy hits the farm and the family is split apart Chris knows what she must do, what she has been born to do. She imagines leaving, ‘like a peewit fleein awa until a body with a gun shoots ye doon’.

After a slightly plodding first half, the second act fairly flies along as the First World War casts its long shadow even over the hills of Kinraddie.

Writer Morna Young and Director Finn Den Hertog combine to bring the Genius Loci of Gibbon’s seminal work to the Lyceum stage, which is no small achievement.

Lyrical, poetic, difficult, long but beautifully musical. This is a show that requires commitment but is certainly worth it in the end. An epic undertaking brilliantly conceived and delivered.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 29th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.