Despite stellar acting Alastair Cording's adaptation of classic novel is difficult to love
Although Sunset Song remains a favourite on the academic syllabus and for theatrical adaptation, the richness of its story and Scots prose can make it a tough journey. While it lacks the pessimism of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels, it shares their sympathy for the rural poor and oppressed women, as well as a poetic love for the landscape.
Following the life of Chris Guthrie, Lewis Grassic Gribbon’s book does not spare the agony: Alastair Cording’s adaptation painstaking presents the breadth of the tale. Chris becomes a symbol of the Highlands – victimised by men, left bereft by World War I – forcing Sell a Door’s production to be both long and heavy with speeches. By deciding to address the audience with passages from the novel, the characters rarely interact, limiting the chemistry between Chris and her beloved Ewan. Yet the cast is strong, with David McKay and Clare Waugh bring a depth to their underwritten characters.
Aside from the wedding scene, and an ending that remembers the dead, Julie Ellen’s direction is straight-forward, concentrating on getting the detail of the story across: the musical interludes are charming and create an atmosphere that is missing in the long passages of explanation, and it is not until the second act, as the war looms and the villagers are split by the call to arms, that any tension builds. Rather like Chris’ father, Sunset Song is worthy, serious and passionate, but can be difficult to love.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Tue 7–Sat 11 Oct.
King’s Theatre, Glasgow Tue 21–Sat 25 Oct.
Dundee Rep Theatre, Dundee Wed–Sat 8 Nov.