The Pearlfisher Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Traverse Theatre Company/Eden Court Theatre
Philip Howard (director), Iain F MacLeod (Writer), Gacin Marwick (Composer/Musician), Lisa Sangster (Designer), Mary Robson (Costume), Kai Fischer (Lighting)
Elspeth Brodie (Jess/Jessie), Sam Heughan (Roderick/Eddie), Philip Cairns (Ali/Alec), Anne Lacey (Etta/Jess), Nicholas Karimi (Willie/Hassan)
Running time

Hebridean playwright Iain F MacLeod’s premiere exploring the history of Scottish Travellers also marks the last show for Lyceum Artistic Director Philip Howard, and after 11 years at the helm, it’s an anti-climactic finish.

We begin in 1948 when village girl Jess (Elspeth Brodie) is intrigued by travelling pearlfisher Ali (Philip Cairns). After stealing his pearls which her village lover Roderick (Sam Heughan) makes into a necklace, she returns the item and rejects her village life for the intrigue and romance of the travellers. The second act presents a modern day caravan park where Jess’ grand-daughter is experiencing similar prickles of restlessness when she meets asylum seeker Hassan (Nicolas Karimi).

This classically structured piece uses the necklace as a catalyst which causes the smallest incidents to result in a chain of events to pull the characters in different directions, exploring escapism, punishment, loneliness, violence, sexual desire and life and death. But on the whole it lacks any dramatic momentum. It’s as if MacLeod has written two distinct pieces on the same topic then weakly attempted to glue them together.

The comparisons between travellers and settlers, in particular their economical relationship is explored without moralising and offers no easy solutions to the argument over the controversy of travellers and the communities they enfringe. But for all its atmosphere and MacLeod’s beautiful abstract mesh of Gaelic, Scots and English language with its rhythmic structure, the piece fails to display any emotional heart, never allowing us to engage fully in the disjointed pairing of two ages.

Lisa Sangster’s magnificent set with its grassy banks and central belt of river stream represent the coursing certainty of nature and also provides symbolism for the actions throughout; joining and separating, cleansing and sinning. Some humourous interludes in the second act bring life the piece and the cast are stellar but there is a longing for something more, just like Brodie’s central character. The piece assumes there is a mighty importance, but never gets past the lacklustre surface to the true meaning in a piece that plays like an oversentimentalised epic folk story.

Runs until Sat Nov 10, times vary.
Lindsay Corr, November 2007