The Girl with Red Hair

Sharman MacDonald
The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company and the Bush Theatre
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
(2005)

The Girl with Red Hair publicity image

The Girl With Red Hair is a piece that will haunt those who see it. It's the story of a small town in Fife and a group of people who are recovering, in various ways, from the deaths and departures of the people they loved.

The girl with red hair in the title is Roslyn, the sister and daughter of two of the characters. Roslyn's death has left her mother Cath (Patricia Kerrigan) and Izzy (Helen McAlpine), whom she baby-sat, scarred in different ways. Corinne (Emma Campbell Jones), a newcomer to the town, is now the new girlfriend of Rosslyn's boyfriend Matt (Sean Biggerstaff).

While Izzy crushes on Matt and forces her best friend Pam (Joanne Cummins) to re-enact scenes of Roslyn and Matt's relationship with her, Cath is seduced by Stuart (Christopher Dunne), a traveller who's passing through town. And while all this is going on, a separate drama takes place between friends Sadie (Sandra Voe) and Ina (Sheila Reid) as the decision of whether or not to take over the hotel which Sadie has inherited uncovers deeper secrets about their past.

MacDonald has made some interesting choices with her language in this piece. Most of the time, characters speak in a heightened, poetic manner, which is reinforced by the way they interact and how action takes place in different quadrants of the stage - almost like cuts in a film (in fact, this staging brings to mind the structure of Mike Figgis' 2000 film Timecode). But every so often, an expletive bursts out, and this disrupts the otherwise contemplative and peaceful narrative. Whether this is a fault of the writing (and I'm not one to have knee-jerk objections to the 'f word'), due to Mike Bradwell's direction, or simply down to the delivery of the performers, the obscenity doesn't fit the gentle way in which the rest of the story is told.

Robin Don's design is highly realistic, which clashes with the surreal aspects of the story and dialogue, though it adds to a cinematic sense of dislocation. He does take full advantage of the Lyceum stage's height, and it must have been refreshing for those seated in upper stories to have action playing out before them.

The story is convoluted, and perhaps this play needs to be taken 'as it comes,' so to speak - allowed to wash over audience members who concentrate on soaking up the language and visual imagery which the actors create on stage. It is rife with questions about time, location, and relationships in this town which seems almost entirely populated by women. At times, action taking place in various quadrants of the stage felt almost like they'd been taken from the same lives at different times. At others, the relationships were clearly linear.

The play seems to be built up from actions that are small in size but large in significance, and at times the large size of the theatre and the audience's distance from the stage is a bit frustrating. In a smaller space, with the audience able to get closer to the stage, The Girl With Red Hair might have had even greater impact.

It may be that The Girl With Red Hair requires a second viewing for all of the threads to tie together and make sense, or it may be that the play is still in need of some tightening up. Or, it's possible that MacDonald's story is more slice-of-life than complete narrative and audience members shouldn't be looking for answers (or even questions), but rather for an experience.

"The Girl with Red Hair" runs at the Lyceum to 12th March, and then at the Hampstead Theatre from 23rd march to 16th April.

Philip Fisher reviewed this production when it transferred to the Hampstead Theatre

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Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody