A full house at the Traverse Theatre for ‘Calum’s Road’ provided ample opportunity to gauge audience reaction.
The tale of Calum McLeod and the road he built on Raasay is by now well known – it’s become a book by Roger Hutchinson, is the title of a familiar contemporary fiddle tune andits location is now, ironically, a tourist destination. It has bedded down comfortably as part of the current Scottish mythos.
Yet the harsh reality of Calum McLeod’s self-appointed task, to build a road that would connect his isolated community to the rest of the island of Raasay consisted of years of unremitting labour in the face of the sublime indifference of authority to Calum and his like.
David Harrower’s script does well in depicting much of this, and even when he appears to veer toward – but skilfully misses – sentimentality, the audience remains drawn in. This is as well, since the playing time now and then feels almost as endless as Calum’s road-building. Some pruning of this script could have resulted in both a sharper focus and negated this reviewer’s uncharitable impulse to reprise a Harry Lauder classic.
That noted, there’s no doubt that a strong cast deliver the goods in copious quantities. Whether depicting the dynamics of the McLeod family or the strains between those who left and have remained, there’s a splendid sense of integrity all round.
However, Harrower’s script seems at times to struggle to properly contain the ideas implicit within it – the vexed questions of government complicity in Gaeltacht depopulation, acquiescence in absentee landlord neglect, outward respect and internal resistance to the Gaelic language and the fate of native speakers attending mainland secondary schools are all touched on only to be set aside when the narrative needs to move on.
In short, the play appears a victim of the demands of the touring circuit quite as much as Calum and his family appear victims of the time in which they lived. Which is not to say that it does not succeed within these constraints. The capacity audience at the Traverse on the night seen gave it a fulsome reception, which there was much in this production to justify.
Runs til 8th June