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FringeReview Scotland 2014

Sunset Song

Sell A Door Theatre Company/Beacon Arts Centre

Genre: Drama

Venue: Beacon Arts Centre


Low Down

Sell A Door Theatre Company take on a classic of Scottish culture, giving new voice to Chris Guthrie and her tale of Scotland and its past. This is a faithful telling of a neighbourhood nation working dealing with global issues whilst spinning its own solutions, wonderfully captured by a terrific company.


Sunset Song was voted Scotland’s favourite novel which gives it resonance for a country whilst also places a heavy burden on anyone staging it. We have Chris Guthrie, daughter of John telling the tale of her move to Kinraddie of the Mearns, the suicide of her mother, of her brother leaving for Argentina, the subsequent death of her father, then her marriage to Ewan, followed by his enlisting before returning a different man, of his passing at war and then her second marriage to the minister Colquhoun. This is a story of a woman many think was Gibbon’s allegory for Scotland as she rose from the muck and the glaur.

This is a faithful adaptation by Alastair Cording that gives us the story in a simple yet effective format. It works because its structure does not tinker over much with the story. We do begin with Colquhoun and Chris looking back but from there it is straight and works extremely well. It is hardly surprising as the richness of the work gives us a theatrical sweep through this story that Cording captured about twenty years ago so this is a revival that is well overdue.

That we have some magnificent performances does nothing but add to the platform they have been given. In the cast mention must go to the work of David McKay, Sandy Nelson, Jennifer Hainey, Clare Waugh and Fraser Sivewright. Between them the laughs and gasps in the second half come because they have set them up in the first. In particular both McKay and Nelson use their fine comic timing to perfection several times throughout the two acts. As for John Guthrie and Chris, Alan McHugh gives a humanity to John that is very difficult to pull off, but he does so. The stand out in any production of Sunset Song will always have to be Chris. Rebecca Elise manages to give us a Chris full of hope but devoid of naiveté. It truly is a magnificent performance and round her the cast have wrapped this classic in impressive fashion.

The music is simply marvellous and the compositions that Morna Young, with help from Alan McHugh and Sandy Nelson have given us match the melancholy, the joy and the story perfectly. Lighting, costumes and soundscape were spot on but the one thing I found that I was less keen on was the set.

Sunset Song is a rural hymn and it took me until the second half to work out the significance of the corrugated iron work at the back until we got to World War One. With the backdrop of the trenches and the shiny silver in the platforms onstage I got more of an industrial feel than the rural north of Kinraddie of the Mearns. It’s a personal thing perhaps but the massive turn of events caused by World War One may be highly important within the novel but for me the effect on the rural community is key.

That notwithstanding the production, once again cements the reputation of a company that is growing in confidence and panache. Sell A Door Theatre company gives you an entertaining night out with great plays brought to the stage with flair and intense creativity. The standards they have set mean that although they are but 6 years old, they have taken giant steps to be a central part of Scotland’s creative present. They may have a UK outlook but this association with the Beacon Arts centre, begun in 2012, is proving to be highly significant. If Sunset Song is to be followed by anything then more Scottish texts given the Sell A Door treatment is to be welcomed.