Joy Watters declares Dundee Rep's latest production 'a memorable swansong' for its exiting artistic director.
Director James Brining take his leave of Dundee Rep in epic style with Zinnie Harris' emotionally gruelling examination of life on an island so remote it gives the play its title. Harris drew partially on the history of Tristan da Cunha, lying mid Atlantic between Cape Town and Argentina, where the population scraped by until a volcanic eruption saw them evacuated to England and factory work.
Harris shows the deleterious effects of the outside world and how, tragically, the islanders are vitally dependent on it. Any community, however remote, is at the mercy not just of nature but of war and capitalism. Brining also extends the resonance of island life beyond the southern hemisphere to make a greater point about such communities as the Scots cast deliver the strange archaic language of the islanders.
The vastness of the subject matter is stunningly conveyed in Neil Warmington's huge set where the stage becomes water, surrounded by volcanic rock underneath a never ending sky. Then comes the English factory with its walkways resembling a prison--which it was for the bereft trapped islanders.
Four island inhabitants are shown, mainly the oldest couple Mill and Bill. It's a kind of Becketian portrayal with hints of Laurel and Hardy to begin with. Ann Louise Ross as Mill gives the stand out performance of the night which builds to two heart rending monologues encapsulating the agony of exile and the island's terrible secret. Angus Peter Campbell as the naïve guilty ridden spouse is altogether much less sure-footed.
However, Kevin Lennon, as nephew Francis, is perfectly pitched as the young man struggles over his loyalty to family and friends and role as agent of capitalism and bringing a factory to the island. Cape Town businessman Mr Hansen turns eggs into coins with his magic tricks but swiftly learns the islanders are not a bunch of gullible children but have hearts and minds. Robert Paterson handles the changing moods of the capitalist with utter conviction.
The first act’s screeching soundscape presaging doom, with its electronic yelps of pain, is ratcheted too high. The excess extends to some histrionics in the acting which level out as the work progresses, becoming more powerful as it becomes quieter.
All human life is here, too much actually, as Harris has created an overlong three hour epic, but Brining has tackled it head on, creating a memorable swansong.
At Dundee Rep until Saturday 5 May