An Island Between Heaven And Earth

Aug 21 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Slow but sure

Just at St John’s (Venue 127) Fri 1 – Sat 23 Aug 2014

Thoughtful and intelligent, AJL Productions’ An Island Between Heaven And Earth takes its time to get going but is well worth seeing.

Mark Kydd and Andy Paterson. Photo Sandrine Cazalet

Mark Kydd and Andy Paterson. Photo Sandrine Cazalet

Alistair Rutherford’s play, staged in the Hall at St John’s, deals with the founding of the Iona Community in 1938. Govan minister George MacLeod attempted to reconcile the traditional church with the working classes by rebuilding the medieval monastery on Iona, cradle of Scottish Christianity, along with a group of unemployed shipyard workers and trainee ministers.

The slow-moving nature of the show immediately sets it apart at this time of year. Few companies who are not firmly established would attempt a show of this length, complete with interval, in a festival slot.

Indeed, with the removal of a couple of scenes which fail to advance the plot, and the interval taken out, this show would easily come in under the 75 minutes that seems to be the upper limit for a Fringe show. But this would take away the main appeal of this play.

The extra room to breathe is what gives this production its main appeal. The discussions between characters may verge on the stilted at times, and there may be an artificial air to proceedings, but at least it is not afraid of ideas.

a quiet, commanding naturalism

With the exception of one character, a rival minister who is obviously an Aunt Sally to be knocked down, no one is dismissed. All opinions are presented as being worthwhile. As a result, it is possible to put any number of interpretations on what is presented here. Perhaps it is a straightforward Christian exegesis of the power of miracles. Alternatively, it could be a modern examination of the inequalities of capital. Or something else entirely.

The downside of this is the lack of dramatic impact. At times the story meanders and while James McSharry’s direction ensures that there are no obvious lulls, the production does not always grip.

Mark Kydd has the difficult task of playing MacLeod. While he does not quite manage to suggest the level of charisma that must have been present in order for so many people to follow him, it is still an impressive performance.

There is also a quiet, commanding naturalism to David MacBeath (shipyard worker Archie) and Chris Pearson (stonemason Bill) which makes them compelling. Andrew Paterson’s careful, understated performance as MacLeod’s Serbian confidant Petro is also a noteworthy achievement.

Laverne Edmonds plays MacLeod’s housekeeper Mrs Fallon, whose role as a narrator is a thoughtful way of increasing female presence in what seems an otherwise masculine world. Unfortunately, she is saddled with some clunky exposition at times that can have the air of a history lesson; she is much stronger when interacting with other characters.

Jason Degnan’s trainee minister Bobby McKay does not always convince. The awkwardness of the character seems to lead to an unbalanced performance.

Similarly, not all attempts at realistic staging are helpful. Small piles of stones do not quite manage to represent the much larger amounts of rock they signify; the decision to use real food in a scene where men are eating has a distancing effect rather than adding realism.

In the end, however, none of this really matters. A production such as this, which readily admits that it does not have all of the answers, is refreshing in itself.

Running time 1 hour 40 minutes including interval
Just at St John’s (Venue 127) , St John’s Church, Princes St, EH2 4BJ
Fri 1 – Sat 23 August 2014 (not Suns)
Daily at 1.00 pm
Not in Fringe programme
Tickets from:


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