Reviews: Lost at Sea, Perth Theatre & My Left/Right Foot: The Musical Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline

Theatre

Lost at Sea
Perth Theatre
Touring until May 24

My Left/Right Foot: The Musical
Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline
At Dundee Rep, May 21-25

By MARK BROWN

Lost at Sea #2 credit Mihaela Bodlovic
The cast of Lost at Sea. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

This full stage premiere of Morna Young’s fishing drama Lost at Sea has been a long time coming. “Incited”, to use the writer’s word, by the loss at sea of her own father (Daniel ‘Donnie’ Young) in 1989, the play began its life with a performed reading in the Morayshire fishing community of Lossiemouth in 2013.

Six years on, the piece is being staged by Perth Theatre with all of the gravitas and style that its weighty and emotive subject matter demands. Just reading the production’s list of cast and creatives (ranging from such brilliant actors as Tam Dean Burn, Jennifer Black and Gerry Mulgrew, to acclaimed director Ian Brown and set designer Karen Tennent) creates a sense of anticipation.

Young’s play is a moving, commemorative fiction which integrates the words of real people from fishing communities. However, unlike many verbatim dramas, which can tend to feel rigid and leaden, this piece is supple and generous.

Built around the quest of one young woman (Shona, played with sympathetic persistence by Sophia McLean), for the truth of her father’s death, this is no slab of theatrical granite. Rather, it has the contours of a humanistic sculpture.

The contrast between brothers Jock and Kevin McInnes (played powerfully by Ali Craig and Andy Clark, respectively) has both a timelessly tragic dimension and a contemporary, political aspect. Their brotherhood is strained by personality differences that are exacerbated by the economics of modern fishing, quotas and, for a time in the recent past, the rich rewards that were available to some.

However, as Skipper (the lyrical, ubiquitous and ethereal fisherman, performed beautifully by Tam Dean Burn) reminds us, the sea, which gives and takes, is more powerful than any financial transaction.

A story of conflict and, agonisingly, of loss, the play also expresses the complex relationships that the women of fishing communities have with the sea. The loss of both a father and, then, a son puts a rupture in the stoicism of Meg (the excellent Jennifer Black). There are fine performances, too, from Helen McAlpine and Kim Gerard as young fishermen’s wives Kath and Eve.

The atmosphere of Ian Brown’s production is powerful and constant, thanks in no small measure to the impressive set by Karen Tennent (which is evocative of the darkness of the sea, and is brilliantly illuminated by lighting designer Katharine Williams). Pippa Murphy’s music and sound, including moving songs and tunes (some played, by actor/musician Thoren Ferguson, on an extraordinary fiddle hewn from driftwood), is equally exceptional.

MLRF
My Left/Right Foot. Photo: National Theatre of Scotland

There is exceptional music of a very different kind in My Left/Right Foot: The Musical, the deservedly revived comedy by Birds of Paradise and the National Theatre of Scotland. A smash hit at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, this musical-cum-farce satirises “does he take sugar” attitudes to disability with a gloriously flagrant chutzpah.

The ultra-competitive, but consistently unsuccessful am-drammers known as the Kirktoon Players think they just might win the Scottish amateur dramatic competition if they go down the politically correct “inclusivity” route. However, things go somewhat pear-shaped when the am-dram authorities get wind of the fact that the role of protagonist Christy Brown (who has cerebral palsy/CP) in their proposed stage adaptation of My Left Foot is to be played (as in the famous film starring Daniel Day-Lewis) by a non-disabled actor.

Chaos ensues as the company try to rebuild their show around Chris (the excellent Christopher Imbroscisano), a community hall volunteer (and non-actor) who happens to have CP. Outrageous numbers such as “I Hate Other People” and “Spastic Finger” are reminiscent of the late, great Ian Dury’s refusal to bow to society’s demand for polite gratitude from disabled people.

From sex between disabled and non-disabled people to a fabulously liberal use of non-PC language around disability, the piece reflects the tremendous humour (and also the great political stridency) of writer/director Robert Softley Gale (who has CP himself) and fellow lyricists Richard Thomas and Scott Gilmour. The music (by Thomas and Claire McKenzie) ranges delightfully from rock opera to The Dubliners, and is delivered brilliantly by a top-notch, uproariously frenetic ensemble.

For tour dates for Lost at Sea, visit: horsecross.co.uk

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday and the Sunday National on May 5, 2019

© Mark Brown

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