Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, Wed 11 Oct, then touring.
The question of what precisely it means to be Scottish, of where and from whom a nation’s sense of itself derives, are bound to be at the forefront of public discourse over the next few months. Gerry Mulgrew’s production for Communicado makes a pretty decent stab at an answer to these questions, though in so wild and unruly a manner as to render any final decision on the issue a complex and finely nuanced one. Soaring between the rowdily chaotic and quietly elegiac, Mulgrew’s adaptation of Robin Jenkins’ classic novel presents a kind of Caledonian Peer Gynt, its protagonist cutting a swathe through every aspect of Scottish life, from working class turn of the last century slums to the rarified world of Scottish aristoland, full of Etonians claiming to represent the soul of Scotland.
But if Fergus Lamont is harder on the hypocrisy and avarice of the posh, there’s little sentimentality in its representation of a foul mouthed underclass benighted by sectarian bigotry. Instead, the journey of the eponymous poet and antihero (Sandy Grierson) from a boy of dubious parentage who wears a kilt to speak of his Highland origins is obstructed throughout by his own vices and those of a society corrupted by one form or other of grim prejudice, from top to bottom. Perhaps only his childhood sweetheart Mary (Irene Allan) a campaigning socialist of the tenements, and his final partner Kirsty (Lesley Hart), a highland peasant girl, are exempt.
Relentless in its inventive theatricality, the piece veers from tableau to song to stark realism by turns, finding along the way the kind of spirit and feel of Communicado’s earliest glory days. David Vernon’s accordion music is a constant presence, while George Tarbuck’s lighting captures the constant questing energy of the piece. Ultimately, it feels that there’s a nationalist bent to the play’s evocation of history, from the Highland Clearances to the Red Clyde and on to the Second World War, but there’s nothing simplistic to its message, which is nearly as morally and emotionally enigmatic as Fergus himself. Grierson is splendid at the centre, capturing perfectly the uncertainty an artist caught between the desire for social change and the comforts of bourgeois escapism. So too, Alan and Hart are strong in an eight-strong cast, all of whom rise to the challenge of multiple and often grotesque characters with imagination and vigour. An exhilarating night of theatre.