Daily Archives: September 25, 2012

And The Children Never Looked Back


JOYCE MCMILLAN on AND THE CHILDREN NEVER LOOKED BACK at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 25.9.12

4 stars ****

IN AN EMPTY schoolroom on a remote northern island, a young man called Danny stands and talks into a recording machine. A strange sound shakes the air, and a slightly older woman enters, the school’s lone teacher, tense, angry, good-looking. She thinks he is a journalist, and tries to throw him out; he reassures her that he is just the grandson of a woman who was born on the island, come to rediscover his roots.

This is the start of Icelandic playwright Salka Gudmundsdottir’s 35-minute dialogue, translated and directed by Graeme Maley for the Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season; and it soon becomes clear that the island has been the scene of a tragedy that gives the woman, Sunna, every reason to fear sensational news coverage. In a strange echo of a traditional island story, a whole group of island teenagers have taken their own lives, plunging from the island’s highest cliff. And Danny – whose motives are less pure than he claims – insists on looking for reasons, flaws in the life of the island that might account for such horror; while Sunna insists that to impose such a narrative is only to add to the suffering of the islanders.

The play is oddly structured, often more like a raging monologue from Julie Austin’s grief-stricken Sunna, with occasional interruptions from Mark Wood’s Danny, than a genuine conversation. It’s difficult, though, to resist the power of a drama that, for all its brevity, slices straight to the heart of our increasingly impatient demand for simple, blame-shifting explanations that keep tragic events at a distance. The need to dismiss Sunna’s island as a strange, dark, “different” place that somehow invited its own tragedy haunts Danny’s journey; while Sunna’s absolute refusal to be complicit in that process marks her out as a memorable character for our time, glimpsed only briefly, but difficult to forget.