FringeReview Scotland 2019
Roman Stornoway is a novel everyman of alcoholic contradictions. Someone of ability musically who can capture the beauty of his surroundings, wash them through his heart and celebrate them in song, he abuses his relationship with Eilidh, to pursue a dream he has to be forced to follow. He then abuses the hospitality of Eva as he tries to record the album which would catapult him to his own glory before traipsing back to the islands that has an eternal pull on him but never the solution as he goes from Stornoway to a recording studio in Edinburgh, paid for by Eilidh, before returning to his home, after being thrown out of her flat by Hungarian PhD student Eva.
It is fair to say that the novel made waves and there are plenty in the audience tonight here to see that glory made real onstage. The script presented here tends, though, to be heavily leaden with the dialogue of a novel. It makes some of the action perfunctory rather than capture the liveliness of speech. When it really snaps and zings is in the songs, especially written for the piece and the poetry delivered directly to us. There I could luxuriate in the warmth of the Gaelic and the beauty of the prose.
The structure was an interesting way of developing form page to stage and I thought it worked tolerably well. There were points, particularly in audience participation and direct address that did not, for me, work so well, as there seemed to be a need for exposition rather than theatricality. The use of video as a backdrop though did give it a distinctive theatre feel which worked really well. It kept us in the moment of a Hebridean weather swell that found its foil in the characters trying to escape it but also celebrate it too.
As I had not read the novel, I began slightly confused with the casting of a woman as a man but as the play developed, I really understood how inspired this was. Naomi Stirrat has brought a real understanding to the emotional turmoil of the part of Roman that would have been obscured by a male figure, I think. I got the depth of his loss through gesture and movement that may have been otherwise lost and her ability to transcend a gender and produce the human was inspired. She was, of course, able to so do because both Rachel Kennedy and Chloe-Ann Tylor gave her the space. As Eilidh Kennedy excelled in the frustrations and the quiet disappointment of best friend Eilidh and the appalled and needing to help hopelessness of a Hungarian student in a foreign land trying to help a man who’s behaviour was a further foreign landscape was captured beautifully by Tylor.
With some doubling there was potential confusion but costume kept that confusion mostly at bay – the preacher deserves mention as it is a peculiarly Scottish phenomenon and Stirrat brought such humour to it – consciously and otherwise.
The direction was at most times quite subtle and coherent but the two pieces of audience participation summed up how mixed the overall feeling became. The search for Martin Monkey Nuts, was, we knew, doomed but it was a great set piece and hilarious. The second piece of audience involvement, getting Martin, no Monkey Nuts, to throw in a line as a plot device was less successful.
Technically, due to the venue, there were massive issues. Playing on the floor to an audience on the same floor brings problems. Sight lines were difficult and the acoustics were not good; many around me stood and complained about being unable to hear. Quite a few members of the audience found it so difficult that, at the interval, they voted with their feet. The Cottier, now ostensibly, a wedding venue, was not conducive to playing the piece as it was. It is more a shame on the lack of venues affordable for touring theatre in the city than the company that this state of affairs exists but we are left feeling a little cheated by the experience as it would have played better when the Cottier had raked seating.
Overall Dogstar have, once again, proved to be the hymnal to the Highlands onstage. I loved so much of this but lost so much more that I cannot wait to see Dogstar out again but hope they have a better platform to produce their work and maybe the adaptor would take the writer out for a pint – but nae chicken – to discuss theatricality in a much fuller fashion.