The degree to which our lives are (mis)shaped by the financial opportunism of others has become more transparent in recent times, though soon it will naturally go back to hiding, thanks to Gordon Brown’s G20 decision to lay down no serious banking regulations. It’s this kind of political cowardice that makes those who work to keep the history of economic exploitation alive all the more important. Among their number is Neil M Gunn, whose 1941 novel is here given the theatrical treatment by Aberdeen Performing Arts.
It’s precisely not letting go of the past that makes Gunn so valuable to us
Set in the late 19th Century during the Highland clearances, a heavily-pregnant Catrine (the ever-reliable Meg Fraser) is forced to head to the coastal town of Caithness, currently enjoying an economic boom thanks to the titular herrings. Having lost her husband to the sea, the emotionally-guarded Catrine not only has difficulty opening up to others, but can’t let her son Finn (Finn Den Hertog) stretch his sea legs, resulting in a constant tension between the two.
The difficulty Peter Arnott had in adapting a 600-page novel for the stage is apparent in the first half, with exposition and character development moving too fast to form an emotional engagement with the piece. It’s not helped by director Kenny Ireland leaning too heavily on cinematic devices, from slo-mo fight scenes to Mathew Scott’s crass Hollywood soundtrack. The second half tones it down, allowing the solid ensemble to get grips with the meat of the play; but as Catrine learns to allow her son to choose his own path, and we feel the familiar theme of letting go of the past creep in, you can’t help but feel Arnott has teased out the more trite aspects of the source material, resulting in a kind of irony; it’s precisely not letting go of the past that makes Gunn so valuable to us.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 10 Oct, then touring