The Pearlfisher

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 26 Oct–Sat 10 Nov



Travelling folk have, for hundreds of years, caused controversy wherever they were liable to show up. How much of the trouble that seems to follow them emanates from the communities they visit, rather than the travellers themselves, is a moot point however. Iain F Macleod’s new play for the Traverse (which will also be the last to be directed by outgoing artistic director Philip Howard) touches on this subject, and also attempts to explore the great traveller storytelling traditions.

In this adaptation of a traditional story, a young woman from a settled village in rural Scotland takes some pearls from a travelling man, and her fiancé turns them into a pearl necklace. The story then follows both characters and the necklace through an epic 60-year journey.

‘Although there’s no storytelling in the play, the sensibility of that tradition kind of seeps into the play, which has a kind of classical structure,’ Macleod explains. ‘The smallest events move the play in different directions, with the necklace at the centre, almost causing things to happen.’

The play carries mystical associations between earth, fire and water with the river that courses through the epic sweep of the action. This doesn’t preclude a certain realism, however. Macleod makes the point that Scottish travelling folk were an essential part of the rural economy for many years and are more closely related to many of our lives than we’d like to think.

‘I was looking at a list of differences between a settled community and the traveller community, particularly their relationship to the economy and I thought: “Bloody hell, that sums me up as I’m a freelancer”,’ says Macleod. But there’s nothing moralistic about his work.

‘I don’t want to be caught up in being too PC; the travellers and villagers aren’t simple black-and-white characters, they do good and bad things.’

The Pearlfisher

Epic new work by Iain F Macleod set amongst the post-WW2 traveller communities in the West Highlands. Directed by Macleod's long-time collaborator Philip Howard, marking his final production as Traverse Artistic Director.


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