Skip to content


Published on Monday, 08 August 2011

3 stars

Greenside (venue website)
5-13, 15-20, 22-27 Aug, 12:40pm-1:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

On the day of their father’s funeral, twa chapman billies – two working men – meet beneath a tree, to remember their past and quote Rabbie Burns.  Doug left his small-town birthplace years ago, lured by the opportunities of the big city, while younger brother Andy stayed at home.  But they’re divided by more than geography… and in a series of flashbacks, we learn the sad but familiar story of how their family grew apart.

There’s a true maturity in Alan Gordon’s complex script, and a beautiful eye for detail in his dialogue.  I was brought close to tears by one telling scene which describes, without a hint of pathos, how Andy craves the affection of Doug’s ageing dog – a clever cipher for the now-departed father.  But ironically, the trademark quotes from Burns are the one detail of the writing I would cut.  The basic thought, that the emotionally up-tight father can express himself only by quoting poetry, is a good one – but the transitions into and out of poet’s words lacked the ring of realism for me.

Both Lewis Kennan and Iain Rutherford excel when they play the two brothers’ younger selves, capturing the playfulness and the emotional transparency of growing children.  Little details of their youthful mannerisms are nicely observed, and Kennan in particular matures visibly from scene to scene, lending poignancy as we see him grow more distant from both his younger sibling and his once-beloved father.  Their ultimate parting, as Doug leaves home to seek his future in Edinburgh, is cruelly unfulfilling – all the cruller since this is a flashback, and we know how the story of their relationship is going to end.

But, while the individual performances were often compelling, the play as a whole never quite commanded the stage.  The two actors, who work so well together as young boys or as father and son, seem less comfortable playing the grown-up brothers; it’s a complex relationship defined by both love and disdain, and their shifts in mood didn’t always carry me along.  They aren’t helped by some profoundly unimaginative lighting – no matter if the scene is expansive or introspective, it’s lit up just the same – but I’m also left with the queasy feeling that this just isn’t the right space for this play.  The large stage deprived the actors of a sense of intimacy, and emotional crux scenes were forced to compete with noise from the traffic outside.

There’s one sound, though, that I was delighted to hear.  The whole play – not just the Burns – is performed in a strong Dumfriesshire dialect; a decision which was challenging for my Edinburgh-tuned ear, but which I came to enjoy and respect as the fifty minutes wore on.  Unlike many scripts which purport to celebrate the way our country really speaks, there’s no ostentatious saltire-waving, and no patronising analysis of what it means to be a Scot.  The brothers could be from anywhere, but they happen to be from Castle Douglas; it’s calmly authentic, and that’s a thing I truly admirable.

This is an updated version of this review, published on 8 August 2011. This update corrects an error in the opening paragraph, which had the two brothers' names the wrong way round. We apologise for any confusion arising from our mistake.

<< Force Quit   David Mach: Precious Ligh... >>