EFR - Reviews of Idiot at the Wall

Idiot at the Wall

Mon 20th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Imogen O'Sullivan

at 03:03 on 22nd Aug 2012

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Conflict between modernisation and rural tradition is a worn theme, and the basic stories in this piece reveal decidedly worn plot formulae, but the beautiful, arresting and poignant production that this polished company have produced is nonetheless powerful. Exploring a Hebridean area on the fringes of the UK, and on the fringe of conventional drama settings, Elspeth Turner introduces her audiences to a community formed by their surroundings; folklore myth and rural practicalities combine, with the ‘evil eye’ mentioned in the same breath as ‘Harriet the pig’.

The simple and rustic staging is versatile and displays a consistently atmospheric aesthetic; it is a lovely touch that the moveable blocks ensure all the houses look the same. Lilting folk-song melodies cover scene transitions, and the a capella performances are simply mesmerising. Gregory Thomson plays a suitably unlikely choice for a visionary prophet of the future; beautifully innocent and naive, his performance is one of many relaxed and comfortable characterisations that showcase incredible emotional depth and empathetic skill. Whilst cleverly done, the concept of the socially-rejected ‘fool’ in possession of more knowledge than the rest is one as old as Shakespeare, and I am not convinced by the vision of seaweed streamers and swaying bodies that could have done with being much slower and more physically controlled. However, the moment of emotional chaos that breaks this dream is truly moving and well choreographed.

Tim Barrow as Henry Rathbone is the embodiment of British stoicism, with more than a touch of Hugh Grant bumbling and a sense of star-crossed foreboding thrown in for good measure; his thoroughly human failings are sympathetically portrayed. Lucy Goldie as Sorcha has suitably put-on affectations of voice and gesture - a beautiful contrast to the world she has distanced herself from - and it is a huge credit to her skill as an actress that she breathes enough humanity into this part that the abhorrent depths to which she sinks are made to feel understandable. Her desperate bravery in the face of the fate of a fallen woman is compelling: in no way is she made the villain of the piece and it is nice to see a show spearheaded by such beautifully written female roles. Scott Cadenhead as John is the understated star of the piece; a magnetic presence on stage, he lives under a shadow of prophetic dread, trembling with the water-logged fate his family hurtles towards, holding back ‘the dam that is perched above us’.

Barrow’s exclamation, ‘In every house such poetry!’, is sadly not the case throughout Edinburgh, but is certainly the case at the Bedlam Theatre. Elspeth Turner has created what is clearly a labour of love with exceptional new writing reminiscent of Tennessee Williams and Caryl Churchill, and this love is one that is felt by her audiences. As Odhran she is astute, perceptive, passionate and energetic, tear-jerking in her poetic recital and heart-breaking on her knees in the surf. Her tragic end is innovatively staged and strangely unexpected, as prophecies go. She has brought a touch of Gaelic magic to the Fringe.

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Sukhmani Khatkar

at 09:47 on 22nd Aug 2012

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'The Idiot at the Wall” is perfectly executed. What it does, it does seriously well. However, it is unfortunate that the use of a somewhat hackneyed plot prevents it from being truly first-rate.

Both bewitching and desperately tragic, 'The Idiot at the Wall' is a highly accomplished production. Writer Elspeth Turner, who is consummate in her portrayal of Odhran Mackenzie, has managed to produce an intriguing ode to the hidden mysticisms of Gaelic culture. The plot, however, is somewhat formulaic. The well-worn tale of culture clash between old and new, of sensitising narrow minded “progressives” to the charms of traditional life, and the inevitable tragedy that ensues has been used time and time again. However, this is not to suggest that this production is totally devoid of originality. Indeed, it sparkles as a showcase for the ethereal power of Hebridean folklore, an unusual context that is explored with great earnestness.

The cast are remarkably cohesive. Whilst it is almost a given that every individual is masterful in their own right, there is a spirit of solidarity that means each is perfectly in tune with the other. From the haunting Galiec harmonies performed with each scene change to the overall collective energy of the performance, the group’s togetherness is particularly impressive. Pinpointing actors separately is difficult; however, Lucy Goldie’s depiction of uptight, insecure Sorcha Mackenzie is almost faultless. Furthermore, it is with an innocent sweetness that the unconventional romance between Tim Barrow’s Mr Rathbone and Turner’s Odhran is made believable. Lastly, fearless performances from Gregory Thomson, Scott Cadenhead and Angela Milton all served to capture the spirit of a forgotten island life. They mix humour, wisdom and pride together in what can only be described as the fiercest of emotive storms.

'The Idiot at the Wall' presents an innovative take on that well-known story that documents the encroachment of modernism on a traditional community. Fine acting and impeccable production cannot, however, detract from the predictability that prevents it from fully taking off.

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