‘Teenage angst in the North East’ was how Neil Gunn’s novel was once described to this reviewer. It is, of course, much more than that. The story of Finn’s growth to manhood is given a deliberately epic quality, a match for the saga tradition of his supposed ancestors, and set against the growth of herring fishery at the dawn of the nineteenth century. Penned over a hundred years later, Gunn wrote with more than an eye to a kind of Caledonian Zen, which this production happily tries to echo.
Driven from the lands they’d once farmed to make way for more economically viable sheep, the folk of Caithness turned to the sea for livelihoods. Although a story in part of man against nature, it’s human nature and female, civilising principles which ultimately prevail here.
As sure and well-tempered as its stable mate at the same venue, Sunset Song, this production benefits from the sure touch of director Kenny Ireland and his strong cast.
When her husband Tormad is taken by a press-gang, Catrine turns to her relatives in Dunster for shelter for herself and the yet unborn Finn. Growing up surrounded by the booming herring trade, Finn elects to sail on the boat skippered by Roddie Sinclair. The unspoken affection of Catrine and Roddie is but one of the complications of Finn’s emergence into the adult world, while his growing independence deepens the rift between himself and his mother.
The production is as sure-footed as Finn himself, and effective physical theatre drives it forward as the tale traverses time and space. Whilst remaining faithful to a novel of considerable proportions (in all senses) real theatricality is never lost sight of and we’re left with a genuine sense of satisfaction and gratitude at its end.
5-29 August (not Tuesdays)
£16-£18 (concessions), £18-£20