The Silver Darlings
There’s something cinematic about Kenny Ireland’s staging of the Neil M Gunn novel, adapted here by Peter Arnott. It’s in the sepia photographs of crofts, brochs and cliffs that form a backdrop to Hayden Griffin’s open set of layered coastal rock. It’s in the swell of Matthew Scott’s imposing score. And it’s in the choral presence of the ten-strong company, evoking the spirit of a close-knit community eking out a livelihood from the sea having been forced from the land in the Highland clearances.
Perhaps it’s also in the amplified voices which distract from the intimacy of Gunn’s tale and make it harder to settle into the incident-heavy narrative of the first half. As is often the case with adaptations, there is a lot of ground to cover – a farming community learning to become fishermen, a crew press-ganged at sea, a single mother forging a new life for herself – and by the interval it feels that, despite the catalogue of events, the play has yet to start.
Only in the second half do Arnott and Ireland allow space for the characters to breathe and to make a proper emotional connection with Gunn’s story of economic survival. Meg Fraser’s stoic Catrine finally gets to learn the fate of her husband (a scene at sea delayed from an earlier place in the novel) and to engage in greater depth with the community around her. From the frenetic activity of the first half emerges a touching, romantic tale that captures much of the flavour of a hard period of social transition.
King’s Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 12 Sep; Dundee Rep, Tue 22–Sat 26 Sep; Seen at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, Tue 1 Sep