Sunset Song King’s Theatre

We struggled to find a parking place for the car last night on our way to see the production of ‘Sunset Song’ at The King’s Theatre, and, having found one some distance away, commented as we walked down the road on how many coaches there were parked up in the area. Their presence was explained as we entered the auditorium, by the large number of school pupils already in their seats. Clearly Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s seminal work is on the curriculum this year.

And so it should be, something we realised as we left the theatre following the powerful performance by a clearly talented cast. What struck us was just how relevant the topics it explores still are today.

Published in 1932, Grassic Gibbon’s novel is set in the four years from 1911, and the current production is being staged to mark the centenary of the start of The First World War. The story centres on young Chris Guthrie, her family, friends and neighbours living and farming on the fictional estate of Kinraddie, apparently somewhere near Aberdeen. Around this simple group, Grassic Gibbon builds a complex narrative exploring a wealth of subjects including religion, the role of women in society, domestic violence, education, national identity, the worth of going to war and the dramatic changes brought on by new technology. We see every one of these on today’s news pages.

Many of the cast, who all turned in enthusiastic performances, are Scots trained actors, which may be a necessary qualification for this play as the dialogue is written in a style devised by Grassic Gibbon, midway between Scots and English. As members of the [slightly] older generation who grew up with Grandparents speaking in a Scots dialect, we were able to follow the plot with ease but if English was not your first language, we did doubt that would be possible. Clever use of props on the simple, single set helped put things in to context, but at times it was a little difficult to fully understand.

There were no ‘stand out’ performances in our opinion, but Rebecca Elise’s portrayal of Chris Guthrie, Alan McHugh as her father John, Sandy Nelson as Rob Duncan and Chae Strachan played by David McKay were all excellent.
We were also impressed by the cast’s musical talents; like other productions we have seen recently, they accompanied themselves in the songs which punctuated the story. Indeed Musical Director Morna Young was on stage throughout as a cast member, albeit without any dialogue.

In conclusion, this is a good production of Alastair Cording’s adaptation of a novel which deserves its accolade as one of the best Scottish novels of all time. That the story remains relevant so long after its first appearance makes the decision to include the book in the current school Curriculum enlightened; getting so many coach loads of pupils to sit and enjoy the play is an encouraging sign both for the young generation and the future of theatre too.

Charlie Cavaye