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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Somersaults, theatre review 2

Pulbished in the Guardian

Somersaults – review

Traverse, Edinburgh
4 stars
What do you have left when you strip away your home, your personal possessions and your loved ones? For some, it might be a sense of selfhood, spirituality or oneness with the universe. For playwright Iain Finlay Macleod, all that remains is language. And the dilemma for his central character, James, in this poignant and playful drama for the National Theatre of Scotland, is that even the words are disappearing.

One word is particularly bothering him. James is a successful entrepreneur who has made a fast buck from the games industry and is now living the metropolitan life in Hampstead. He feels little pull home to the Isle of Lewis and has no use for his native Gaelic apart from as a debased, spot-the-swear-word party game. Yet it is with a sense of alarm that he realises he no longer recalls the Gaelic word for "somersault".

This is a man who grew up being known not as James but as Seumas. His formative experience was through a language he now uses only when he speaks to his terminally ill father. Losing vocabulary is like losing a family member; a fundamental part of him that can never be replaced. When bankruptcy strikes, his material world is torn down – literally in the case of Kai Fischer's sandpit set, which is surrounded by transparent gauze that falls away with each blow to his sense of identity.

Losing everything, James finds the only thing he truly values is his mother tongue. Played by Tony Kearney with charm and physicality (he can do somersaults even if he can't pronounce them), he embodies the internal conflict of the minority-language speaker trying to square the practical advantages of communicating in English with the deep self-definition that comes with speaking in his own tongue.

In this way, the play's discussion is not simply about nostalgia versus modernity, but about how we value those things that inform our cultural, social and personal identity even if they are of no monetary worth. Eventually, like his language, James disappears from view, leaving us to look at a desolate and empty stage. From the audience, the actors continue the debate, but it is as if the argument has already been lost.

In a world of dying languages, this is not the first time this predicament has been aired but, in Vicky Featherstone's fluid, carefully timed production, Somersaults gives it a wistful, human face. (Pic Drew Farrell)


© Mark Fisher 2011
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