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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Sunset Song

© Mark Fisher - published in The Guardian

Sunset Song

His Majesty's, Aberdeen
4 out of 5

Straight through the heart of his protagonist, Chris Guthrie, the author Lewis Grassic Gibbon drew the line between modernity and the past. At the radiant centre of his 1932 novel, Sunset Song, and its sequels Cloud Howe and Grey Granite, Chris represents a schism that would divide the nation.

As the daughter of turn-of-the-century Aberdeenshire farmers, she is of the land, yet her education causes her to see her upbringing with the detachment of an outsider. As a teenager on the cusp of maturity, she is both child and woman, while the onset of motherhood represents the transition from freedom to responsibility.

This duality haunts the book as it paints a romantic yet unsentimental portrait of the land. "You hate it and love it in a breath," says Hannah Donaldson, a sturdy, luminous Chris at the still centre of Alastair Cording's fluid adaptation, reworked since its first airing in the Edinburgh festival of 1993. The further she moves from her childhood independence, the closer looms the first world war and the end of the old countryside ways. Neither she nor the village of Kinraddie, nor indeed the world, will ever be the same again.

Kenny Ireland's production is the first in-house drama at Aberdeen's His Majesty's Theatre for nearly 50 years. Appropriately for a story so rooted in community, it is a lively ensemble piece, moving deftly from the choreography of spring ploughing to the sweet harmonies of a winter wedding, and so on through the novel's key moments. Accompanied by live music, the cast create instant vignettes of sturdy carthorses, marching soldiers and toiling labourers, sometimes in a manner that's too self-consciously arty, but more typically managing to give a full sense of the novel's tapestry of life.

Inevitably, given the constraints on time, the adaptation glosses over the languid poetry of the original, becoming more about events than atmosphere, and rattles along at too speedy a pace in the earlier scenes. As the production gets into gear, however, it does much justice to Grassic Gibbon's rich north-eastern language and, with the ever-shifting watercolour landscapes at the back of Hayden Griffin's open set, creates a vivid sense of the countryside and all its cruel beauty. With strong supporting roles from Rod Matthew as her bullish father and Finn Den Hertog as her rebellious brother, Donaldson gives a central performance that, like the novel voted Scotland's favourite read in 2005, is both rooted and romantic.

© Mark Fisher, 2008

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