GAIETY THEATRE, AYR
In the mid-1960s, in a year he claimed he couldn’t quite remember, Calum MacLeod of Raasay (an island off the east coast of the Isle of Skye) embarked on a remarkable project which has become the stuff of legend. Outraged that officialdom had set its face against completing the road it had started to build in north Raasay (the cost was deemed unjustifiable for a declining population of around 100 people), Calum decided that he would build the road himself.
This might seem like the folly of a pig-headed eccentric, were it not that, as immortalised in Roger Hutchinson’s book Calum’s Road, MacLeod’s labours spoke to a painful, unfinished history. For Calum, as David Harrower’s fine stage adaptation of Hutchinson’s volume makes clear, the building of the road was an attempt to arrest, and even to reverse, a depopulation which had begun with the notorious Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Director Gerry Mulgrew’s revival of his 2011 production (for his own Communicado Theatre Company and the National Theatre of Scotland) captures vividly Calum’s extraordinary obstinacy in the face of what he, somewhat hyperbolically, considered to be a neglectful act of “genocide”. The tale is told by way of an often unlikely combination of narration, dialogue and projected imagery with splendidly choreographed movement and wonderful live music and Gaelic song.
A superb supporting cast of five play a series of characters, from Calum’s wife (Lexie) and daughter (Julia) to a briefly returning former islander (Iain) and his son (Alex), but it is Iain Macrae’s performance in the title role which etches itself onto one’s mind, like Calum’s road on the map of Raasay. Playing with tremendous affection and dignity, but also a knowing nod to his character’s absurdities, Macrae evokes brilliantly a man whose implacable distrust of authority was equalled only by his deeply held, Free Presbyterian faith; there is a deliciously humorous moment in which Calum visits his daughter – who is domiciled at the high school in Portree, on Skye – and, so uncomfortable is he with the heathen influences of the relatively urbanised little town, he makes the quickest of exits.
Built, as it is, on the foundation of a prose non-fiction, Calum’s Road is an improbable theatre work. However, as it is sung to its moving conclusion, there is little doubt that Harrower, Mulgrew and the cast have succeeded in paving their way from page to stage.
Touring Scotland until June 28. For further information, visit: http://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on May 22, 2013
© Mark Brown