The Pearlfisher (4 stars)

The Pearlfisher

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, run ended


Philip Howard’s final production as the Traverse’s artistic director might be seen to characterise much of his sterling work there over the last decade. His swansong with Iain F MacLeod’s gentle, but ultimately passionate parable of love and various lost ways of life is an attentive production, alert to the poetry of text, physical moment and image, as well as the inner psyche and dream landscapes of its characters.

In it, we meet Jess (Elspeth Brodie), a young village lass from the North West Highlands just awakening to the possibilities of life in post war, austerity Britain. Her fiancé (Sam Heughan) plans a future that won’t ultimately be realised after the semi-accidental theft of some pearls harvested by a local travelling man (Philip Cairns). The trinket that’s made from the purloined stones becomes an emblem that haunts further generations, and in modern times Jess’s granddaughter, torn between a young emigrant gillie (Nicholas Karimi) and her slightly woebegone local boyfriend becomes involved in the play’s second love triangle.

In front of Lisa Sangster’s attractive hillside and burn set, the cast plays out a couple of stories of love and human fraternity against a background of intolerance and inequality. MacLeod’s text seamlessly explores the social tensions alongside the sexual, and finally attaches the loss of love to the loss of community in both 1948 and the present day. If there are a couple of slightly hokey moments involving gypsy spells and ‘cross my palm with silver’ bargaining, there’s also some astute psychological insight to outbalance this, and a strikingly brave and effective psychosexual dream sequence which might serve to tell us that prophesies coming to pass are as much about our own political and erotic inner tensions as any agency from outside. There’s also an astute performance from young Brodie at the centre, which shows courage and judgement in good measure. So too, much of the support is strong, with Karimi’s cowed but sensitive refugee and Anne Lacey’s feisty old travelling woman well worth the watch.