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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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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Cone Gatherers, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

His Majesty's Theatre
Four stars
YOU can imagine a stage adaptation of Robin Jenkins's sublime 1955 novel turning out like Of Mice and Men. Set during the second world war on a remote Highland estate, it's about two brothers hired to gather pinecones for seed before the forest is felled. Like Steinbeck's Lennie, Callum is a child-like innocent with a love of nature who, arousing suspicion and ridicule, relies on the protection of a more worldly man – in this case, his brother Neil.

But here playwright Peter Arnott shifts the focus on to the gamekeeper, Duror, who, like Steinbeck's Curley, is threatened by the newcomers, for his own reasons. Played by Tom McGovern, blunt and self-justifying, he is a man under severe mental stress who shows signs of paranoid schizophrenia. He stands for something bigger than himself, however. The image of Adolf Hitler flickers onto a newsreel, just as Duror is giving a delusional speech about the evil in society. It harks back to Arnott's opening line: "This story happens in the world and the forest." At a time of global persecution of minorities, Duror's campaign has a wider resonance.

Arnott is also alive to the novel's vision of a ruling class no longer able to sustain its sense of superiority. John Kielty's Neil is an angry egalitarian, refusing to take orders from Jennifer Black's Lady Runcie-Campbell, a decent woman who is ill-equipped to deal with a changing social order.

While designer Hayden Griffin creates an illusion of the forest's enveloping darkness by projecting images on to rows of vertical ropes, director Kenny Ireland builds enough tension for the tragic ending to draw audible gasps.
© Mark Fisher, 2012 (picture Donald Stewart)
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