Review – Calum’s Road

Jun 7 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Long and righteous road

Angela Hardie and Iain Macrae in the NTS/Communicado production of Calum's Road. Photo credit: Drew Farrell

Angela Hardie and Iain Macrae in the NTS/Communicado production of Calum’s Road. Photo credit: Drew Farrell

Traverse Theatre
Thurs 6 – Sat 8 June
Review by Irene Brown

Fine, slow-paced energy, permeates this co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and Gerry Mulgrew’s Communicado that tells of a man’s solitary and dogged fight against bureaucracy as he makes the choice between being defeated and being defiant.

David Harrower’s adaptation of Roger Hutchinson’s book relates the remarkable true story of the tenacious Calum Macleod. Born a sickly wean in Glasgow in 1911 and taken to Raasay on medical advice, he feels he owes his life to the island. When the Council’s road-building programme stops short in Raasay, Calum Macleod picks up his wheelbarrow and, with axe, pick and shovel, starts the colossal job of connecting-up the island himself.

Macleod, a man who never sits down, is armed with a fierce work ethic. Yet while he works, he is stingingly aware of the road’s dual role: it has a heartbreaking potential of allowing people to leave as well as bringing them back. As a self-styled ‘stayer’, it is a bitter blow when his daughter Julia is sent to boarding school in what he sees as profligate Portree, where he can barely bring himself to visit her.

He has vision and perseverance – but when he labels those who choose to leave Raasay as ‘weaklings’ he is being as narrow and hard as the winding road he is building.

The play deals with themes of leaving and belonging and the loss of native language, shown in the characters of Iain Nicholson and his son Alex. Calum’s daughter, Julia, also takes the road ‘up over down and round’ to another life in the mainland.

The cubes and cuboids that form the stark set are bathed in a green light suggesting the deep time of grown moss. Finger-stretching bare trees stand in the corners as coat stands for the on stage costume changes in typical Communicado style.

A very real sense of rural atmosphere

Buy the original

Firm direction from Gerry Mulgrew is complemented by astute movement direction from Malcolm Shields. It brings a gentle fluidity to the tight ensemble of music and dance, although the very nature the slow unravelling of this particular tale does not lend itself to the company’s usual rumbustious signature.

In balance, the visual installation that accompanies the set is exciting and innovative. The raggedy-edged backdrop screen creates a very real sense of rural atmosphere whether it is a running waterfall against rugged rocks and summer green bracken or the whirling winter snow storms. The drive on a dizzying road and ferry crossing of island emigrant Iain Nicholson (Lewis Howden) is captured with enough reality to almost induce a search for travel sickness pills.

Elsewhere, the shadow of Calum is beautifully realised on screen pushing his barrow against a sketched background and the screen becomes a canvas for fantastic abstract images of strips of Fair Isle knitting and collages of elements of pertinent scenes. It is a frame for English surtitles when the characters speak the Gaelic.

The six strong cast delivers the text directly to the audience in time-honoured Communicado tradition. Music from Alasdair Macrae plays a significant part, with a variety of instruments and song, all expertly executed

The refrains that include dates and seasons of the building of Calum’s Road, along with poignant remarks about language and leaving, bring a poetic quality to the piece. Yet their repetition makes the production feel like a road that takes slightly longer than necessary to reach its end.

Running time 1 hr 40 mins
Run ends Saturday 8 June
Tickets from:
The Traverse, 10 Cambridge Street EH1 2ED. Thurs-Sat, 7.30pm.

Calum’s Road on Tour

6 – 8 June Edinburgh
Traverse Theatre
0131 228 1404 Book online
11 – 12 June Kirkcaldy
Adam Smith Theatre
01592 583302 Book online
15 June Stranraer
Ryan Centre Theatre
01776 703535 Book online
18 – 19 June Inverness
Eden Court,
01463 234 234 Book online
21 June Ullapool
Macphail Centre
01854 613336 Book online
25 June Skye
Sabhal Mor Ostaig
01471 844207 Book online
28 June Stirling
01463 234 234 Book online


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