Review: The Barkin House

Sep 7 2012 | By More


Scottish Storytelling Centre September 2012
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is a hollow sense of despair to Wilma G Stark’s one-hander, The Barkin House, which had its world premier at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Thursday night.

Set on Arran in 1899, Margaret Fraser plays grandmother Flora Mary. In her fifties and minding her not-yet-weaned granddaughter, she proofs the fishing nets against salt.

The constant is the sea. Always there, cold and grey according to Flora Mary who hates it and fears it in equal measure. At high tide it laps up into the ground floor of the Barkin House where she lives and works – so called because of the bark used to create the proofing agent for the nets.

Upstairs where the sea cannot reach, but has left its mark, her husband Angus lies bedridden. In her pocket, she carries a letter from her only son, Callum, written from across the sea with bright hope from Canada. In her head, are the ghosts of those it has claimed.

All the right elements of a drama harking back to a time lost are there. There is the rose tint of regret for a way of life long gone, tempered with the dark foreboding of reality. And Fraser steps out bravely enough onto the path of exploring the darkness and the light.

Unfortunately this never displays the sense of drama or poetry to which it aspires.

Fraser puts in an admirable shift on a script that has all the subtlety of bosom-heaving pulp historical fiction. It is rotten with cliched lines and even more cliched characters. Fraser drowns in the lame attempts to find the poetry in one woman’s sorrow, so never succeeds in creating any belief in either place or events as they unfold.

The baby in its cot, centre stage, never feels real. When it cries, Flora Mary displays none of the instinctive maternal reaction that you are willing her to show, thus reducing the baby to a device. By the time it turns out to be a vital link – her only link – with the past and she picks it up, it is too late.

Morna Burdon’s direction begins to pull the play out of the rip-tide of cliché – and some of her choices in recreating Flora Mary’s memories carry an empathy and resonance. There is no real focus on stage, however.

The production is paced by the wash and flow of sea-splashing soundtrack. Yet there is never any attempt to find and use the rhythm of Flora Mary’s work in the pacing of the narrative. Indeed, the work itself provides a distraction away from the narrative. At times Fraser plays it with realism, at others it feels like an afterthought.

In all, by the time Flora Mary’s true situation is revealed any real sense of feeling for her position has long disappeared. It’s all very sad, but singularly unengaging.

Run ended


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