Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
There can’t be many shows that open with a piece of audience participation that involves a Gaelic masterclass of sorts. This, however, is how Kevin MacNeill sets out his store for his own adaptation of his 2005 novel, currently touring the nation in a series of one-night stands by Matthew Zajac’s Dogstar company in association with the Lewis-based An Lanntair organisation.
It’s one of many leaps both off the page and through the fourth wall taken in Zajac’s production of MacNeill’s yarn, which charts the tragi-comic rake’s progress of busking wannabe Roman Stornoway and his self-destructive attempts to get away from his island home, but which only result in him getting out of it in other ways. With ex-girlfriend Eilidh in tow, Roman lands in the big city with dreams of making a record, but instead falls into a doomed adventure with Hungarian student Eva, with a prodigal’s return seemingly inevitable.
The linguistic flourishes of MacNeill’s script are given flesh and blood by an all-female trio of onstage performers, with Naomi Stirrat going so far as to acknowledge her seeming inappropriateness for the role before going on to be utterly believable as Roman’s boozy everyman in search of the high life and an identity beyond the tedium of the island. With Rachel Kennedy as Eilidh and Chloe-Ann Tylor as Eva also managing to bring an entire community to life on Ali Maclaurin’s washed-out set, songs penned by MacNeill with Willie Campbell and Colin Macleod expand the show’s reach even further against Jim Hope’s video backdrop of crashing waves.
As the play itself acknowledges, the figure of the roaring boy roistering his way through life has long been a literary cliché. Dragged into contemporary Scotland as it is here, it becomes a damning illustration of a culture willing to embrace such iconography. Roman’s generation too are willing to drown themselves in it if it will only ease the boredom. For Roman, and every lost boy and girl he represents, there are few other choices available in this wild meditation seen through a glass darkly.
The Herald, October 4th 2019