The View from Castle Rock
Based on stories by Alice Munro, adapted by Linda McLean
Stellar Quines, Edinburgh International Book Festival
From 11 August 2016 to 19 August 2016
Review by David Chadderton
This stage version of Canadian author Alice Munro’s stories about Scottish migrations to Canada in the early nineteenth century is, we are told, a word-for-word translation of her writing but adapted for the stage by Scottish playwright Linda McLean. This may seem like a contradiction, but after seeing the play performed it makes perfect sense.
We first see the Scottish family when Old James (not so old at this point) takes his young lad Andrew up to the Castle in Edinburgh and shows him the view across the water to… America, he says (Andrew later sees on a map that it is actually Fife).
But this plants the seeds of the desire for migration to a place that promises such riches. Some years later, in 1818, Andrew (Simon Donaldson) is married to Agnes (Sally Reid), pregnant with their second child, while Andrew’s single sister Mary (Nicola Jo Cully) looks after the first, obsessively. Brother James has already made the trip to Nova Scotia and they are boarding a ship to do the same, including Old James (Lewis Holden) and his youngest son Walter (Brian James O’Sullivan).
Each of the five cast members takes a main role while also filling in with the narration, including flashbacks to their homeland as they sail further from it in which they play different characters in the sub-stories. It’s all very slickly directed, using the whole of the space in the church, by Marilyn Imrie.
There is some atmospheric music and choral singing (composer Pippa Murphy) that adds to the whole piece, but it’s a shame that this was recorded rather than live—even a single musician would have greatly enhanced its effect. There are also sightline problems if you are not on the front row or an aisle as the stage platform is low and the hard church seating isn’t raked.
But overall this is a lovely piece of theatre that truly reflects both the word and the spirit of Munro’s original and is definitely worth a look.