Review – The Idiot at the Wall

Oct 6 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Excellent debut

Lucy Goldie and Tim Barrow. Photo © Daniel William Hill

Lucy Goldie and Tim Barrow. Photo © Daniel William Hill

Traverse Theatre
03 October 2013
Review by Jen McGregor

Sibling rivalry leads to a disastrous turn of events in Elspeth Turner’s extremely promising debut 2012 play, revived for a Scottish tour by Edinburgh company Stoirm Og and seen at the Traverse.

Set on an unspecified Hebridean island in 1919, The Idiot at the Wall tells the tale of a family living under the shadow of a terrible prophecy while their community struggles to define its relationship with the changing world beyond its shores.

Turner steals the show as Odhran, a charmingly ordinary young woman who has never left the island. Her portrayal is warm and witty, and her fiddle playing is a delight. The arrival of Odhran’s flighty, London-educated sister Sorcha (Lucy Goldie) and her plummy English colleague Henry Rathbone (Tim Barrow) throws the family into chaos, prompting a series of prophetic visions for their “idiot” younger brother Uistean (Simon Eilbeck). Eldest brother John (Kenny Lindsay) acts as a foil to the younger, more energetic characters, but would benefit from a little more gravitas since the task of providing a sense of foreboding falls largely to him.

The cast functions best as an ensemble, swooping into action between scenes to transform the stage while singing a selection of atmospheric Gaelic songs. Music forms an integral part of the production, with Tim du Feu and Murdo Turner’s score blending seamlessly with traditional music. Annie Grace provides subtle underscoring on a variety of instruments.

A confident and assured re-telling

Emily Reutlinger’s direction is slick and she makes good use of the stage and of Jan Bee Brown’s simple, effective design. She could, perhaps, draw more darkness out of the earlier scenes in order to set up the play’s chilling conclusion. Some scenes in the first act teeter on the brink of being too jolly, painting an idealised picture of the island that is at odds with the characters’ description of their isolated, wind-ravaged, pre-Industrial home. A bit less light and a bit more shade could lift this play from being a fine evening’s entertainment to being something unforgettably atmospheric.

The plot treads a well-worn path, following the events of a particularly well-known legend (to name it would give away the ending). However, this is a confident and assured re-telling. It may not break new ground, but the characterisation is neat and the dialogue flows beautifully even as it switches between English and Gaelic.

Turner is an exciting young writer displaying solid craftsmanship and a great deal of talent. She has created an engaging piece of drama with some truly spellbinding moments.

Running time: 2 hrs 30 mins
Run and tour ended
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2ED
Stoirm Og website:


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.