I remember being made to read Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song during the later years of my schooling at Stranraer Academy. It wasn’t a particularly pleasurable read and, despite feeling rather foolish in the knowledge that it is largely regarded as one of the most important Scottish novels of the 20th Century, I couldn’t help but approach my English teacher one day after class and point out that it was an overrated, overblown mountain of tripe.
Unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit too well with dear Mrs McArthur and she was quick to point out that I was a scrawny, greasy headed little twit that didn’t know anything about anything. However, after a somewhat heated exchange, she did concede that the opening chapter wasn’t without issue and that a there is a genuine case for its complete dismissal.
The reason I bring up Sunset Song is that it is very similar to Lark Rise To Candleford in many ways. The themes of identity, the land, the old ways and the rumble of oncoming war echo in both. However, the most obvious similarity between these two greatly celebrated works, or rather this stage adaptation of Lark Rise and the novel of Sunset Song, is that there is so much here that just has no purpose or function.
There’s a lot of fat on the stage and it isn’t down to unfit performers. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this production of Lark Rise To Candleford plays out like the first chapter of Sunset Song. And that was a chore I’d soon rather forget.
A chill of uncertainty fluttered down my spine as I trudged out to breathe a little night air during the interval. Isn’t this taken from a classic novel? Am I just not getting it? But as people started to trickle out and chitter chatter whistled by my ear, I quickly realised that I was not alone.
Disjointed. Boring. Disappointing. These were just a few words that left bitter mouths as they disappeared into surrounding bars, never to return.
And it’s a shame because there was so much here to like. The performances are all excellent, if perhaps a little overdone at times. They sing beautiful songs that are both lyrical and tuneful with apparent ease and heart.
But herein lies another problem. The songs. There are just too many of them and they do little or nothing to move the story along. When a conversation seems to be dwindling, a head pops up and says, “I’ll give us a song!”
Oh please don’t. Just get on with it!
If there was a function at all for these apparently random fits of merriment, it was to cover the fact that there was little of substance to what was unfolding onstage.
The show overindulges in the ‘charms’ of Old England and it makes you thank God that that England is indeed Old and no more.
The warm talk, the cosy sense of community and simpler times is all very charming, particularly with the thunderous horns of war grumbling in the distance, but it all amounts to little more than that.
A resounding disappointment.
Show runs til 23 October