Sunset Song

May 30 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆     Well performed

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Tue 28 May – Sat 8 Jun 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

Stage versions of Sunset Song seem to come around every couple of years, perhaps because no-one has managed to come up with the definitive adaptation yet. Dundee Rep’s new version (a co-production with the Lyceum) has great strengths as well as weaknesses.

This is a new adaptation by Morna Young of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel about Chris Guthrie, a young woman growing up in rural Kincardineshire just before and during the First World war. Chris is torn between her love of the land on the one hand, and a desire for education and becoming more ‘English’ on the other.

The cast of Sunset Song: Kirsten Henderson, Naomi Stirrat, Rori Hawthorn, Samuel Pashby, Danielle Jam, Murray Fraser, Ali Craig and Ann Louise Ross. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The book is a perennial candidate for adaptation, due to its continued popularity in Scotland. There is also the small matter of its annual appearance as an exam set text – although this Lyceum run, coming just after the end of the exams, could not be at a worse time for attracting school parties.

Some of the things that make the book so popular – its impressionistic nature, the symbolism, the psychological explorations, the evocation of the countryside – are the very elements that often work against it dramatically. The end result is often too prosaic and lacks the depth of the source.

texture

Young’s accessible and careful adaptation is certainly not guilty on this score, with the book’s texture being more successfully represented than is often the case. However, this may well go too far the other way, as it can become overwrought and threatens to tip over into melodrama.

The determination to fit in all of the events of a book also causes familiar problems. The last quarter of an hour in what is already a long show is uncomfortably rushed, and starts to sound more like a précis of the novel than a dramatic work.

Naomi Stirrat and Danielle Jam. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The production does, however, impress on many levels. Danielle Jam is very fine as Chris, charting her coming of age with believability and steel. Finn den Hertog’s direction is unhurried and fluid, making good use of a talented ensemble – Ali Craig, Murray Fraser, Rori Hawthorn, Kirsten Henderson, Sam Pashby, Ann Louise Ross and Naomi Stirrat.

They play a variety of roles as well as playing Finn Anderson’s music. Craig is particularly impressive as Chris’s father John, whose self-hatred is turned outwards into brutal violence and abuse against his family. Stirrat is also arresting as Chris’s brother Will, but there is not a weak link in the cast. The accomplished performances do not, however, always make up for the odd underdeveloped characterisation.

exemplary

Emma Bailey’s striking set, featuring huge expanses of earth, is beautifully lit by Emma Jones; Vicki Manderson’s movement design adds greatly to the visual force; and Ritchie Young’s sound design is exemplary. The more worrying elements of the story are handled by den Hertog with tact and potency.

Danielle Jam, Ann Louise Ross, Samuel Pashby, Ali Craig, Kirsten Henderson and Murray Fraser. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic. copy

At times, however, it can become just a little wearying. The desire to be faithful to the source can overshadow the drama, becoming more an episodic series of highly unfortunate events than a coherent dramatic work.

Anderson’s music – evocative and wonderfully performed though it may be – loses its intensity through repetition, and threatens to dominate the action rather than enhance it.

The book’s power still manages to shine through, however, in a production that is excellently performed and has genuine visual impact.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes (including one interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay St, EH9 3AX
Tuesday 28 My – Saturday 8 June 2024
Tues – Sat at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Further details and tickets: Book here.

Murray Fraser. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

ENDS

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