3 stars ***
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS, British stages have been full of shows commemorating the First World War and the carnage it brought; but few have approached the story from as interesting and conflicted a perspective as this latest show from Proiseact Nan Eilean, Scotland’s Gaelic Arts Agency.
Set in and around the Nicolson Institute, Stornoway’s famous seconday school, the play is set both in 1914 and in 1934, at the unveiling of plaque to the fallen; and it centres on the troubled figure of the school’s head teacher William J Gibson, a classicist who in 1914 encouraged his pupils to enlist with many a rousing quote from the ancients, and then spent the rest of his life regretting his role in urging a generation of young men towards their deaths.
Performed in Gaelic, with a simultaneous headphone translation available, Iain Macrae’s production sometimes has a stiff and awkward air, particularly in the playing of the older characters. The three young men in the cast play their brief roles with real passion, though. And there are some fine, thoughtful visual images to set the scene and drive the drama along, not least the kind of archive footage of which we can never see too much; lest we forget all those who died for a country that often barely recognised them and their humanity, whether because of class, race, or – as in this case – a language once driven close to extinction, but now slowly rediscovering its public voice.