City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The View from Castle Rock, St Mark’s (Castle Terrace), Fringe and EIBF review

By Irene Brown - Posted on 14 August 2016

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Show details
Edinburgh International Book Festival and Stellar Quines
Running time: 
Alice Munro (writer), Linda McLean (adaptor), Marilyn Imrie (director), Claire Halleran (designer), Pippa Murphy (composer/musical director), Laura Hawkins (production manager), Dani Rae (associate producer), Janice Parker (movement director)
Simon Donaldson, (Andrew and ensemble), Brian James O’Sullivan (Walter and ensemble), Lewis Howden (Old James and ensemble), Sally Reid (Agnes and ensemble), and Nicola Jo Cully (Mary and ensemble), Peter McCrudden and Rudi Mortimer (wee boys in Edinburgh production), Castle Chorus

There is something deeply ancestral about the effect of unaccompanied Scottish psalms on even the most secular of ears and indeed hearts. It is this sound, produced by the rising voices of the Castle Chorus, that accompanies the lamplit entrance to St Mark’s Unitarian Church of the five strong cast of The View from Castle Rock before they unfold this story from Canadian writer Alice Munro of 19th century Scottish emigration.

Told through direct narration, like a story lifted right from the page thanks to the word-for-word adaptation by Linda McLean and acted out a like a vibrant pop-up book for adults, and with some fine live music played throughout by cast member Brian James O’Sullivan (Walter), a tale of Borders’ myths, beliefs, habits and ambitions unfolds.

The title of the book (and play) comes from Old James (Lewis Howden) ‘looking beyond’ from the highest point in Edinburgh Castle and, reminiscent of the late Michael Marra’s song If Dundee was Africa, showing his son Andrew (Simon Donaldson) the coast of America, which was of course Fife!

Their sair travails across the ocean, including birth and death, are realised with a very few props. The slow unfurling shroud of a dead child as it is buried at sea and sheets being stretched wide as the legs of Agnes (Sally Reid) would have been as she gives birth are cases in point. But there’s light comedy in the hoisting on board of a bellowing cow and the epidemic of vomiting, all involving buckets.

Deeply rooted Borders’ superstitions and vastly opposing male and female viewpoints are exposed throughout the text with the former being embodied in the obdurate Old James, a character that Lewis Howden plays with the solid assurance that gives the sense of his being born to it. Before the family’s eventual landing on the other side of the world, James, the belovèd wee son of Mary (Nicola Jo Cully) appears - straight and wilful as his Grandfather! The venue, originally founded by a congregation from the Borders, feels completely wedded to the production, as its rafters filled with the hymn Leaning on the everlasting Lord as its emotive finale.

This powerful piece of theatre from a totally braw ensemble is a timeous and heart wrenching reminder of the perils of emigration.

11- 29 August at varied times. Tour continues to the Borders from 31 August to 3 September