Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Stellar Quines and the Edinburgh International Book Festival present the world premiere of a theatrical adaptation of Canadian author Alice Munro’s short stories about the emigration of her Scottish ancestors to Canada. The View from Castle Rock was adapted by Linda McLean and directed by Marilyn Imrie.
The View from Castle Rock follows the Laidlaw family – Andrew (Simon Donaldson), his father Old James (Lewis Howden), his wife Agnes (Sally Reid), son Young James, sister Mary (Nicola Jo Cully), and brother Walter (Brian James O’Sullivan) – from the Ettrick valley (a parish described in the 1799 Statistical Account of Scotland as possessing no natural advantages) on the sea crossing from Leith to Quebec City in 1818. It focuses in particular on the experiences of “Poor Mary,” who is too afraid to speak much in front of anyone but her adored nephew, and Agnes, who is a little lost amongst the stiff formality of her new family but too stubborn to be cowed by them.
The story is narrated more or less directly from the book – and to emphasise the word-for-word nature of the adaptation, Munro’s book itself makes an appearance at the beginning and end. It can be odd to hear characters describing their thoughts in third person, but it does allow for greater insight into their thoughts and keeps the original prose intact.
The programme notes suggest a relationship between The View from Castle Rock and the current refugee crisis, by offering another perspective on migration from an era when millions of Scots moved to North America in hopes of a better life. The connections are subtle and might easily be missed by watching the show itself. Nor is the economic migration of the story quite the same situation as that of many refugees, who are fleeing violence and persecution, and might be better compared to contemporary migration from Eastern Europe or elsewhere.
It is performed in St Mark’s Church, within sight of the Castle Rock from which it takes its name (in reference to an event in Andrew Laidlaw’s life when his father takes him to Edinburgh castle to look across the sea to “America”). The atmosphere is enhanced by traditional and newly-composed Scottish music, largely recorded, though O’Sullivan provides some live percussion and accordion and there are a few songs sung by the cast.
With a talented cast and beautiful staging, The View from Castle Rock is a memorable piece with a story that is both touching and at times humorous.