The One Touch Theatre at Eden Court is packed for Stornoway, Quebec. Rousing fiddle music keeps fingers and toes tapping as we wait for the tendrils of white ribbon to open. Our waiting is interrupted by the arrival of the lively Elspeth Turner playing wild Gaelic bounty hunter Mairi MacNeill.
Tucker delivers a compelling performance as Mairi. Gorgeously attired in buckskin and fur, she teases the audience with multi-lingual fluidity before the swaying ribbons open to reveal Becky Minto’s charming, timber set. Around a wanted poster, framed maxims hang on minimalist wooden planks portraying the play’s themes. We are told that “Je Me Souviens” explains that Quebecois will remain true to their roots no matter which flags they live under. A Gaelic motto emphasises another principal issue: generosity to the outcast, broken bones to the oppressor.
First-time playwright, Calum L MacLeoid, sets his play in the actual Stornoway, Quebec, a town settled by Gaelic-speaking Scottish emigrants who are now Quebecois speakers. The antagonist, outlaw Donald Morrison – a gentle interruption by Dòl Eoin MacKinnon – is based on a historical figure. Morrison was once the most wanted man in Canada, and a yearly festival continues to be held in his honour. This combination of reality and fantasy and the mix of three languages make the play refreshingly original. Happily, subtitles are projected for the non-Gaelic speakers in attendance.
Despite the originality of a Gaelic Western, there are echoes of other productions. The situation is similar to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, with the characters trapped by a blizzard as threats of murders and violence abound. The subject matter is also reminiscent of J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World as it celebrates defying authority and romanticises the outlaw. Finally, there is a undeniable whiff of Thelma & Louise.
The play describes horrific events, a hanging, the death of children, betrayal and torture yet the actors succeed in maintaining a light touch. Particularly noteworthy, is Daibhidh Walker as the officious, corrupt Major Malcolm MacAuley, while M J Deans as Uilleamina Bouchard remains sympathetic as the depressed, drug-addicted wife. Her husband, chef and hotelier, Jean Baptiste Bouchard played by Sam James Smith is less sympathetic as we watch his allegiances shift.