Girl with the Red Hair

Sharman Macdonald
Hampstead Theatre
(2005)

The Girl With Red Hair publicity image

The Girl with the Red Hair is the latest play by a Scottish playwright who is now not best known for her most famous effort When I was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout. She has the good fortune (or possibly misfortune) to be the mother of the actress of the moment, Keira Knightle, and all of the press coverage in advance of this production has led with this fact.

The artistic director of the Bush Theatre, the redoubtable Mike Bradwell, has for some time been aware of the need to develop beyond the very small space available above a public house in Shepherd's Bush. In part, this is because before too long a major refurbishment will be required there. In addition, he realises that co-productions with other theatres expand the scope of work that the Bush can produce.

The Girl with the Red Hair is a joint production with the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and the size of its cast together with Robin Don's amazing set fit well into the Hampstead Theatre. Indeed, at the Bush there would have been space for neither the audience nor the ceiling.

The set consists of parts of a couple of houses rising out of a cliff with the village's graveyard stage left. Don has gone to incredible and very intricate trouble in order to create an entirely believable setting.

Bradwell himself directs a Scottish cast with a single Irish interloper. The play looks at the way in which a vivacious but now dead girl affects the lives of eight people in the Scottish fishing village where she lived.

Seventeen-year-old Roslyn, a would-be pop star, does not seem to have been exceptional. The impact that she has, a full year after her death in a car-crash, certainly is.

In descending order of age, one starts with a bickering pair of pensioner ladies who once shared the same man. Sandra Voe and, in particular, Sheila Reid catch the mix of rivalry and dependence both amusingly and well.

The strongest performance comes from Patricia Kerrigan as Cath, Roslyn's mother and proprietor of a bed and breakfast. She has been unable to "let go" since their daughter's death. The arrival of a laid-back lorry driver, Christopher Dunne's Stewart, helps to ease the pain.

Perhaps hardest hit of all is Matt played by Sean Bickerstaff. He was Roslyn's boyfriend and still cannot tear himself away from the shoreline where they shared their happy moments. This makes life difficult for his girlfriend Corrine (Emma Campbell Jones).

The last pairing are teenage girls: Izzy who is dangerously obsessed with the dead girl and constantly replays scenes from her life with her by now bored friend, Pam. Helen McAlpine plays Izzy, a young lady who loves declaiming like her preacher father, with much energy; while Joanne Cummins, who is still at drama school, is Pam.

By the end of the 90 minute-long play, each of the characters has to an extent resolved their problems and begun to look forwards rather than dwelling on their sad loss.

The Girl with the Red Hair has its moments but the sum does not consist of very much more than the individual parts. It provides a glimpse of life in a small Scottish seaside town and a view of its inhabitants. It seems certain though that Sharman Macdonald was seeking something much deeper and more meaningful, connected to the way that death affects those left behind. In this, she is only partially successful.

Rachel Lynn Brody reviewed this production at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Reviewer: Philip Fisher