JOYCE MCMILLAN on SHRAPNEL at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 14.3.16.
4 stars ****
WHERE ARE WE, in the early scenes of Catrona Lexy Campbell’s bold new stage version of the 2006 novel Shrapnel, by her father Tormod Caimbeul? There’s a hospital, there are nurses, there are people speaking Gaelic, with projected surtitles flitting across the set. And there seems to be a bar, or perhaps an Italian restaurant, where an ugly Friday-night fight has taken place, resulting in the serious injury of a notorious retired police officer known as Shrapnel, and a strong police interest in our young hero, a Lewis man called McLugrin.
In fact, as we gradually work out, we are in Leith; and it’s arguable that given the linguistic and visual complexity of what Catriona Lexy Campbell and director Muireann Kelly are trying to achieve in this new show from Theatr Gu Leor – with a cast of six, and a strong creative team in sound, design and music – it might be worth making that starting-point a little clearer, before we plunge into McLurgan’s Dante-esque journey through the underbelly of late-20th urban Scotland, and out into the landscape of his chlldhood.
If Campbell’s adaptation is sometimes slightly hard to follow, though, what it achieves without question is to make a thrilling case for Tormod Caimbeul’s novel, as an astonishingly bold and surreal narrative poem, almost like Alasdair Gray’s Lanark in its ambition, about a Gaelic soul half-lost in urban Scotland, but still deeply aware not only of his heritage, but of how it connects with so many deeper strands in human culture, from the Greeks and Shakespeare to Buddhist mysticism. There’s a chilling performance from Iain Macrae as Shrapnel, a mighty bullying monster of macho violence and bigotry; and a superb one from young Gaelic actor Iain Beggs, who carries the complexity and truth of Caimbeul’s story on his broad shoulders, to its strangely peaceful and moving end.
At the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, this week (15-16 March), and on tour across northern Scotland, Barra and Lewis until 2 April.