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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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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Singing Far into the Night, theatre review

Published in Northings

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 23 September 2011, and touring

THERE’S a fascinating article by playwright Hamish MacDonald in the programme for this Mull Theatre production. 

He writes about the experience of his father’s friend, a Royal Navy rating, in 1931 when sailors of the Atlantic fleet went on strike. They were furious about a 25% pay cut brought about by the austerity programme of Ramsay MacDonald’s government. Their action at Invergordon was tantamount to mutiny.

He writes also about his mother’s memories of journalists being hounded out of the country because of their communist sympathies. Supporting the striking sailors made them guilty of incitement to mutiny and at risk of the death penalty. Getting out was the only option.

These stories have modern-day parallels (as well as the austerity, the prime minister was responsible for a coalition government), but they also evoke a very different time when class distinctions were extreme, when young idealists gravitated towards Moscow and when collective action by the workers could have such repercussions that the economy was rocked and Britain had to pull out of the Gold Standard.
No denying, then, that the Inverness playwright, who is also a joint director of Dogstar Theatre Company, has alighted on a story ripe with dramatic potential and topical power. Unfortunately, in Singing Far into the Night, the material seems undigested, sometimes giving too much information, other times too little and, despite a cast of only four, never establishing whose story is being told as it meanders across the decades.

Inspired by his parents’ stories, MacDonald imagines two brothers: one, Finlay (Barrie Hunter), is a far-left journalist sacrificing everything to publish a revolutionary newspaper; the other, Connal (Harry Ward), is an experienced sailor who, although sympathetic to the cause, is no radical. Caught up in revolutionary times, however, Connal becomes a scapegoat for the strike, persecuted by Greg Powrie’s establishment interrogator, while Finlay and his activist comrade Erica (Helen McAlpine) flee to the USSR, which turns out not to be the workers’ paradise they’d imagined.

There’s a great story in there, but the script raises too many questions. Who is the interrogator and why is he so single-minded in his pursuit of Connal? Why does Connal appear to go mad? Why do Finlay and Erica have to escape Scotland? What happens when they get to the USSR that causes them to split up and what prompts Finlay to return home many years later?

MacDonald gives some clues in his own programme note but, in this dramatic form, the answers are as hard to make out as the gloomily lit set. The second act is less obscure and the actors in Alasdair McCrone’s production make of the material what they can, but it’s a story that remains more interesting in theory than in practice.

© Mark Fisher 2011 (pic: Douglas Robertson)

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