The Idiot at the Wall Review
The soil of a Hebridean island might be too rocky for trees to take hold, but not so for its people and certainly not for its legends, myths and superstitions. These are deeply rooted, so that a neighbour might have the evil eye or be a witch, have been changed through some communion with nature or be able to see the future.
When the “idiot” brother of the island family, a sort of local Brahan Seer, perceives a dark combined future for his two sisters, they are separated in an act of being cruel to be kind. Not that the now-returning Sorcha feels hard done by - in fact she has relished her London life and while she enjoys the warmth of the family home she would gladly yank the islanders forward.
She is accompanied by Lord Henry Rathbone, a collector of folk lore who is more susceptible to the magic that the island life weaves and also to the charms of the stay-at-home sister, Odhran. She is the keeper of the flame – the guardian of the hearth, the memory of their mother and the oral tradition of stories.
While there may be tensions between the island and the “outside” world, it would seem that bridges can be built which would allow the sisters safe passage. Rathbone is drawn into a tentative, tender romance with Odhran and Sorcha predicts returning to a happy cosmopolitan life with his brother, Freddie. But blood is thicker than water and family loyalties seem to defy geography. And hanging over everything, dank as seaweed, is the legend, the visions and a secret.
This is a lovingly and solidly crafted piece of theatre, in many ways as traditional as its tale. The performances are strong and captivating throughout, with Elspeth Turner heart-stealing as Odhran and Gregory Thomson credible and measured as her “idiot” brother Uistean.
The action flows almost seamlessly, aided by simple but effective scenery blocks and stitched together with atmospheric, other-worldly Gaelic waulking songs and ballads.
The only element of the story that could benefit from development is the enmity that John expresses over broken promises to the islanders, which is never fully rounded out.
While it’s possible to view the protagonists and the portrayed class and culture clash as stereotypical, this would to some extent miss the point. It’s a play that has at its heart storytelling, and that’s what it does; it enthrallingly tells a dramatic tale.
Show Times: Runs to 25 August 2012, 3.25pm.
Ticket Prices: £9 (£8), £25 (families)