Dirt Road by James Kelman: A Theatrical Exploration

James Kelman, adapted by David Greig

Edinburgh International Book Festival and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

Edinburgh International Book Festival

On 26 August 2017

Review by David Chadderton

Dirt Road was one of a series of "theatrical explorations" at this year's Book Festival that locked a writer, a director and some actors into a rehearsal room for three days with a book to see what they came up with.

The resulting one-off performances, in collaboration with Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre, were adaptations of selected sections of the novel lasting up to an hour followed by a Q&A session with the actors, director, novelist and adapter.

James Kelman's Dirt Road was scripted by Lyceum artistic director David Greig, directed by Wils Wilson and featured actor-musicians Moyo Akandé, Brian James O'Sullivan, Harry Ward and Aly Macrae, the latter also composing the music. Some of the selected text will be familiar to anyone who attended Kelman's own event at last year's Book Festival when he read from this book.

The story we saw involved young Scottish musician—accordion player to be precise—Murdo travelling to America with his father, who has no appreciation of music at all, after the death of his mother to see family.

They end up in the middle of nowhere, where Murdo comes across a blues band playing in the open air. He joins in on the squeezebox, and then is invited to joint them on stage at a festival in Lafayette in two weeks' time. Murdo and his father move on, but the idea of playing in a festival begins to obsess him more and more.

This was an interesting experiment that produced a captivating performance, well-acted and with some great music. However the question arises, what exactly were we watching? It was an entertaining and informative hour and a half, but it felt like the middle of a process rather than an end product. It would be great if these particular pieces were developed into something more substantial rather than being abandoned after one experimental showing.

As an experimental scratch piece, this was very well put together and well performed and certainly worth seeing.