King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Morna Young’s seafaring play is a searing, tempestuous examination of fishing communities in the Northeast of Scotland. From the heydays of the 1980s, when the money was rolling in, to the more elitist issues of the early 2000s, when only a select few were still living it large, we are shown the strengths and divisions within these close-knit neighbourhoods and the cruel toll the sea exacts on them.
Journalist Shona (Sophia McLean) returns to the fishing village she left when she was just a child. She is looking for answers: her father, Jock (Ali Craig), died, lost at sea, and she needs to find out more, to know what happened on that fateful day. But the locals close ranks on her: they’ve lost too many; suffered too much; accepted the Faustian exchange that keeps them all in work.
Young’s own father was lost at sea, and this piece blends fiction with that reality. There are verbatim voices – telling of the fishermen’s arduous days at sea and their families’ agonising waits on land – interwoven with constructed dialogue; the authentic details of a fishing life and a fictional account of one woman’s family. It’s a powerful mixture.
There are politics here too: the cameradie and team spirit of the 1980s gives way to a far more cynical individualism and – by 2012 – the community is bitterly divided. Shona’s Uncle Kevin (Andy Clark) has taken advantage of the UK’s strange decision to enable its fishermen to sell their EU quotas to the highest bidder, often to foreign investors. (No other EU country allowed this – for obvious reasons.) In Kevin’s case, it means he’s safe, no longer endangering his life at sea, just staying home and waiting for the money to pour in. But, as Skipper (Tam Dean Burn) reminds him, this means that those around him are risking their lives for an ever diminishing slice of the pie. What price community?
This could be a heavy, sombre tale, but Ian Brown’s nimble direction ensures that it is fleet of foot, as restless as the sea itself. The ensemble work is precise and light, the movement (by Jim Manganello) evoking rolling waves, and turbulent emotions. The spare set (designed by Karen Tennent) lends the piece a stark brutality, with restless projections of a dark and ominous sea.
If we don’t quite get the cathartic thrill of a dramatic climax, we do at least get a thought-provoking piece of theatre, straddling introspection and social commentary. It’s not exactly an easy watch, but it’s certainly most worthwhile.