Theatre review: Shrapnel (3 stars)


Gaelic theatre visits Edinburgh’s Underworld

Adapted from her father’s novel, Catriona Lexy Chaimbeul’s play is a fast-moving journey through an Edinburgh unfamiliar and deadly: the naive protagonist MacLaren, still full of Gaelic poetry and fond of a drop, finds himself pursued by a violent policeman Walter Shrapnel, who believes that he stabbed him in a pub brawl. Like the hero, the script is torn between a gritty underworld and the lyrical memories of rural beauty.

The script scrambles to include elements of the novel, such as a romance between a policeman and a nurse, that are not given enough space to develop: the central chase introduces a series of eccentric characters, who lend the action a surreal menace. Yet the interludes, such as Maclaren’s dream of escaping the city, interrupt the tension: revelling in the poetry of places and language, it is beautiful on its own terms, but undermines the unravelling of the thrilling plot.

The suggestive set is supported by limited animations, which add only hints of atmosphere, but the strong cast evoke an Edinburgh society that is bound together by a distrust of the law and a joyous musical culture. If the structure is sometimes uneven – climactic confrontations are often followed by a musical set-piece or a meandering meditation on the city – the melodrama and the characterisations drive the action to a strong finale.

Shrapnel is on tour until Sat 2 Apr 2016.


Play adapted from Tormod a Bhocsair's Gaelic novel.