JOYCE MCMILLAN on JOHN GABRIEL BARCLAY at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 21.11.15
3 stars ***
A SHOUT OUT to all those who care about the Scots tongue; for today marks the final lunchtime performance of an extraordinary experiment in archaic but forceful Scots speech, built around the spine of Ibsen’s 1896 drama John Gabriel Borkman. Ibsen’s theme – reflected in the name John Carnegie gives to his 55-minute adaptation – is the fate of a banker who has speculated with his depositors’ money and lost, spreading ruin through the community. Now, bankrupt and disgraced, he paces alone in the upper room of his house, while his embittered wife Gertrude rages silently below, his son Edward tries to fight off the demands of his vengeful mother, and his former love – Gertrude’s wealthy sister Ellen – arrives with her own set of deathbed demands.
Carnegie’s play is always as much an exercise as a drama in its own right, set in the early 20th century, and therefore barely able to achieve any resonance with more recent banking disasters; it’s also full of debatable linguistic decisions, preferring to revive an archaic-sounding old Scots, rather than invent a new one.
The play boasts a scintillating quartet of performances, though, notably from Isabella Jarrett as Gertrude, and the wonderful Maureen Beattie as a passionate and sensual Ellen, with Peter Kelly in sinister form as John Gabriel himself. And there are moments when Carnegie’s production captures the full poetic weight of late Ibsen, and his wild, dream-like imagination; not least during John Gabriel’s final walk into the snow, with the two women whose lives he has shaped and blighted pursuing him all the way, like the fates or furies they are.
Oran Mor, Glasgow, final performance today.