Somersaults, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
National Theatre of Scotland
Iain Finlay Macleod (writer), Vicky Featherstone (director), Kai Fischer (set, lighting and projection designer), Rob MacNeacail (sound designer), Anne Henderson (casting director), Fiona Kennedy (company stage manager), James Gardner (technical manager)
Angus Peter Campbell (Sandy), Frances Grey (Alison), Tony Kearney (James), Barnaby Power (Mark), John Ramage (Barrett)
Running time

First of all, I confess to not having a word of the Gaelic. Scots, a minority language also protected under the European Charter, is ma ain mither tung. While I don’t always speak it, it aye speaks tae me.  Understandably then, the message of Iain Finlay Macleod’s play about the loss of the words and the language of childhood speaks loudly.

Behind a thin veil of drapes, the veneer of wealth, we see James (Tony Kearney) enjoying the fruits of his success in the electronic games business in his state of the art Hampstead apartment.

Through these drapes, what is underfoot looks like an incredibly soft deep-pile carpet but is in fact the soft Sienna coloured soil of Stornoway.  He connects to part of his past by online networking, playing a word linked drinking game with his old chum Mark (Barnaby Power), but it’s not enough. 

As he struggles to grasp words that used to trip from his tongue readily, he goes back to his island roots where his father, Sandy (Angus Peter Campbell), the last link to his past and linguistic roots, is dying. 

His worshipping at the altar of mammon brings him to his knees as he gradually loses his wealth, possessions, his friends and his wife, all traumatic but none as great as losing what made him – his mother tongue. 

Wearing his late father’s jacket,  as if trying to get into his skin, James scrabbles in the soil to try to reassemble the old loom that wove their living, just as his brain scrabbles and somersaults to assemble his lost language.

This performance was in English and Gaelic with no translation of the latter for non-Gaelic speakers. This could have been done as there was the projection facility to indicate Hampstead or Lewis but it was clearly a ploy to emphasise exclusion. That said, the bookends of the play meant that while the nuances between father and son were missed, the overall sentiment could be picked up by the drama.

The cast ended up sitting among the audience, being devil’s advocate by throwing around issues that were likely going through the heads of the audience at one level or another about how Gaels have been treated and how the language is viewed by non Gaels. This didn’t develop into a debate, as it was clearly part of the play, though one person did contribute.

This is an important piece of drama that could easily translate to apply to any minority language worldwide. There are many ways to keep a language in the forefront of discussion but the best way of keeping one alive is to use it. As my previous editor Bob Fairnie used to say, “Keep a guid Scots tung in yer heid – but mind an uise it tae!”

Show times

Friday 11 March – Saturday 19 March (not Monday 14), 7pm

Sunday 13 March, 5pm

Tickets £12-£6