4 stars ****
Northern Stage at St. Stephen’s (Venue 73)
OUTSIDE St. Stephen’s, parked close to the building, there’s a white minibus with the words Third Angel painted on the side; and if you buy a ticket for Alexander Kelly’s new monologue Cape Wrath, you’ll find yourself packed into it for an hour with nine or ten other travellers, although the bus goes nowhere, except across a landscape of memory. For like dozens of other writer-performers on this year’s Fringe, Kelly is meditating on family history, trying to come to term with what he has inherited from his parents and grandparents, and what he might pass on; and so it soon emerges that this “slightly haggard-looking 40-year-old Midlander” actually had a much-loved Scottish grandad, who used – in his retirement – to go on solo coach trips to the north of Scotland, once famously reaching Cape Wrath, one of the most windswept northerly points of the British mainland.
There’s plenty of charm in Kelly’s show, as he shares the odd family postcard, passes round a glass of whisky (which he drinks inmemory of the old man even though he doesn’t like it), reads his grandfather’s diary of his travels, and invites us to unfold huge maps of Caithness and Sutherland; most of the time he is simply himself, the baffled almost-middle-aged offpsring of people whose lives he struggles to imagine, sometimes he almost becomes the cheerful driver of the little Caithness post-bus.
There’s something more than charm, though, in the sharp narrative arc of Kelly’s story, as he tries to retrace his grandfather’s steps to Durness and beyond. There’s a recognition of the complexity of Britain, and of the huge range of lives and landscapes and connections that make up this small island, that adds something real, heartfelt and significant to the current debate about the future of the union; and a sense, too, of the importance of love – binding people to the places they came from, helping them build new lives elsewhere – in easing the passage from past to future, and from the place where we once lived, to where we are now.