The View From Castle Rock by Alice Munro

Aug 17 2016 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩  Stately

artSpace@StMarks (Venue 125) Thurs 11 – Mon 29 Aug 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a classy and accomplished feel to The View from Castle Rock, the Book Festival’s collaboration with Stellar Quines.

Billed as a ‘word for word’ adaptation by Linda McLean of two short stories by Alice Munro, the play tells of her ancestors the Laidlaws from Ettrickbridge on their way to a new life in Canada.

Nicola Jo Cully. Photo Alan McCredie

Nicola Jo Cully. Photo Alan McCredie

The story unfolds with a limpid grace, and in telling of a family migrating from a place considered to have ‘no advantages’ to another country, this is one of those plays that makes a profoundly political point simply by existing.

Elegant use is made of music by Pippa Murphy, and not only are the sturdy wooden structures of Claire Halleran’s set used to evoke both the Castle Rock and shipboard life, sparing but effective use is made of the space in St Mark’s – itself, of course, in the shadow of the Rock.

An excellent cast play the Laidlaw family – a sonorous, commanding Lewis Howden is the grouchy paterfamilias who opens the play by declaring that the coast of Fife visible from the Castle is in fact America. Simon Donaldson is the more thoughtful Andrew, with Brian James O’Sullivan as his brother Walter, whose writings about the voyage apparently aided Munro in her research – the Laidlaws sharing a propensity for writing with their cousin James Hogg.

superbly splenetic

Nicola Jo Cully is the unfortunate sister Mary, with Sally Reid in superbly splenetic form as Andrew’s wife Agnes. The cast also provide other parts and narration, which is handled cleverly, but still provides the one problem in an otherwise highly creditable production.

Munro’s writing is at once its biggest advantage and its most serious disadvantage. It seems strange to use ‘prosaic’ as a criticism for a Book Festival production, especially when the prose is by a Nobel laureate, but this really is a ‘word for word’ adaptation. Due respect is shown to the source, but it can be disorienting being told who is speaking and what they are doing when the audience have seen it perfectly well.

The end result can be less than theatrical, and it is the moments when it moves away from the written word – the music, the movement, the little theatrical touches – when it comes most alive. With a less distinguished cast, it could appear flat, but in this production the dignity and restraint are extremely effective.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes
artSpace@StMarks (Venue 125), 7 Castle Terrace, EH1 2DP
Thursday 11 – Monday 29 August 2016 (not 14, 16, 21, 23)
Times vary; see websites for details. Run sold out but returns may become available.
Details on the EdFringe website:
Book Festival website:
Stellar Quines website:
Twitter: @Stellarquines

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