The Barkin House
JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE BARKIN HOUSE at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 7.9.12
2 stars **
IN 1982, a mini-Festival called Scottish Women Live! took place at what’s now the Scottish Storytelling Centre; as I recall, it was a sparky, post-modern affair, full of scraps of angry documentary, and lively script-in-hand performance. Now – according to its publicity – Morna Burdon’s production of Wilma G. Stark’s new monologue forms part of a celebration called Women Live! 30 Years On; the only problem is that both the style and content of the play are so drearily traditional that no-one connected with the original Women Live! would have touched them with a boat-hook.
The play was inspired by a building in Lochranza, an old house where fishing-nets were boiled in bark to seal them against salt water; and here our 19th-century heroine Flora toils and grieves, ranting implausibly at the hated sea that washes through the house. Her son has gone to Canada, her daughters have been drowned, her grief-stricken husband is felled by a stroke; she has no-one left but a tiny grandchild whom she is too exhausted to love, and over 45 minutes she gradually unveils this grim tale, while gloomy or haunting Gaelic songs play on the soundtrack.
It’s a subject with potential, given a touch of poetry and some real dramatic rigour. Here, though, it gets neither; and by the time Margaret Fraser, as Flora, has limped through an astonishingly indecisive series of multiple endings, we’re left wondering how a play only fifty minutes long can be so repetitive, and take such a long time a-dying.