Edinburgh Fringe 2010
This adaptation brings Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic Scottish novel to life, a lyrical lament for the traditional farming lifestyle lost during the first half of last century. Grander in scope and style than many fringe shows, and with a strong Scottish cast, it offers a nice reminder of what country you’re really in too.
Sunset Song follows Chris Guthrie, as she grows from a book-loving young girl to wife and mother, in a north-east Scottish farming village. Life isn’t always easy – disaster seems ever imminent, with threats of incest and rape, suicide and infanticide, and the devastating impact of war. But Chris is an irrepressible young woman, and the play needs must succeed or fail on the strength of the actress playing her. Fortunately, Hannah Donaldson has the charm, sweetness and energy bring her to life, from an effervescent schoolgirl to a woman on her wedding day.
The rest of the cast provide a solid ensemble background, and this is a more assured staging than many you’ll see at the fringe. Indeed, with an hour and forty run time, an impressive sloped wooden set (evoking both farmhouse floorboards and ploughed fields), and lavish costumes and props, this doesn’t feel very fringey at all. It appears to be a respectful, affectionate adaptation by Alastair Cording, and there are few gimmicks or flashes here; instead, we’ve got high production values, reliable performances and steady-handed direction from Kenny Ireland, who focuses on really telling the story. It works: there are several emotional pay-offs, prompting lumps in throats or relieved smiles as the characters navigate their changing world, or struggle with their love/loathe relationship with the land – and each other.
At the risk of sounding like a terrible tourist, it is also rather nice to see a show in Edinburgh that is fully Scottish: adapted from a novel voted ‘most popular Scottish novel of all time’ (in 2006), performed by a Scottish company (Aberdeen Performing Arts), and with a very Scottish story and perspective. A word of warning, however, if you are from south of the border: the accents are very strong indeed, and it was getting on for an hour in before my ear finally attuned. Not that that should put you off – steeping yourself in their voices is all part of the appeal.