Somersaults at Finborough Theatre
Ian Finlay Macleod writes Somersaults with a very personal vendetta against the dying use of the Gaelic language. It was presented first at The Traverse, Edinburgh in March 2010 and its London debut at the Finborough comes this month, running at ninety minutes with no interval.
David Carlyle plays James, whose character, after growing up on the Scottish Isle of Lewis, now lives in London with his wife Alison (Emily Bowker). The play starts with quite a bang, introducing characters quickly, with intermittent flashbacks of how he and his wife started dating; and a friend Mark (Simon Harrison), who shows up after they meet on Facebook and seems to stay for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, the purpose of Alison and Mark’s roles are never justified within the text or on the stage. They exist, simply to emphasise a point that seems to stop midway through the piece. We start with James gradually losing all his wealth and materialistic happiness, but then it’s decided that this influences his loss of his Gaelic heritage. The two don’t link very well in the text at all, but it is attempted by using the character Barrett (Richard Teverson), who repossesses James’ belongings and claims to be supporting him. We are then transported into the relationship of James and his father Sandy (Tom Marshall), who’s dying of cancer.
There is a touching scene in which the majority is spoken in Gaelic between father and son, and Marshall easily evokes a deep sense of tranquility amongst the audience despite the hyped-up pressure of James’ life and quick (including unnecessary circle turning) scene changes. Marshall’s accent is seamless too.
Carlyle performs very well as the central character, yet the grief he experiences for his father’s suffering is directed rather internally and could do with being opened up and shared more for the audience to connect. As an audience member, relating to the piece is already difficult with the theme being Scottish-based in a primarily English audience; it would be nice to have the opportunity to engage with James on an emotional level.
Because of their lack of purpose within the story, Mark and Alison appear weak and their secret affair is entirely separate from the argument at hand. The sub plot and plot are very unattached and simply don’t blend, which is a shame. The plot is explained via direct monologue at the end, and it feels rather a rushed excuse for the preceding story but actually turns out to be the biggest chunk of audience/cast connection. Russell Bolam’s direction is visually plausible and works well in the neat, well-thought-out set design (Philip Lindley).
The heart is in Somersaults, as is the passion for the theme. The writing just seems untidy and too personally indulgent to Macleod, so doesn’t seem to have leapt off the page for a receiving audience. There is no denying that the Gaelic language is beautiful, and to hear it in live conversation is gorgeously rhythmic and soothing, but as a play Somersaults has a lot of loose ends that need tying and re-cutting. But it was a nice attempt, with a cheery cast.
Somersaults is at the Finborough Theatre until 26th January 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.