Theatre Gu Leòr presents a highly moving tribute to the boys from Achill who lost their lives in a Scottish bothy fire in 1937, but ‘Scotties’ ultimately sacrifices displaying a cohesive piece of theatre, for pushing the audience to their emotional limits. The script is written with great consideration; a lyrical combination of Gaelic and English that indulges in cultural appreciation, whilst remaining understandable to those with only one language. The Gaelic music used throughout is a highlight; used to establish the tone of a scene, the music lifts our spirits, enhances our grief, and reminds us the cultural significance of the piece.
For those with an interest in Scottish history, the appeal of this play is limitless. However, the audience must be open-minded, as the script won’t slow down for those who need a quick clarification on Scottish dialect, want to understand every word, or simply don’t fancy putting in the effort to follow the drama. Whether you see this as a learning opportunity for empathy of other cultures or a lack of accessibility on the play’s behalf, can only be your own decision as an audience member.
‘Scotties’ is very well-suited to the Traverse Theatre venue. Intimate and simple, we are drawn towards the action and able to appreciate the details of the actors’ authentic emotions. Faoileann Cunningham’s performance as Molly is especially commendable. As the sister of one of the boys lost in the fire, Cunningham demonstrates her range of abilities, portraying a variety of believable emotions, filling the theatre with her singing and dancing the ceilidh with infectious joy.
Aside from the emotionally-charged scenes, dreamy transitions transporting Michael (played sensitively by Ryan Hunter) from present day back to 1937 are somewhat clichéd and suffer in comparison to the dialogue. Abstract motion, representative of falling in and out of dreams, is awkwardly depicted, where non-naturalistic sequences did not seem to add anything to the performance’s pace or progression. The play is also drained by its predictability, a difficult trap to avoid when representing a true story. Michael’s descent from the girl he meets in his vision comes as no surprise, and whilst the connection allows for a smooth structure, it is a little unsatisfying.
I would strongly recommend sticking around for the post-show discussion if you are intrigued by the history of the play. Armed with 2 years of research into this historical event, director Muireann Kelly and the cast have swathes of knowledge and passion to share. This passion is undoubtedly the driving force of the production and is evident in the character’s portrayals and director’s choices. ‘Scotties’ is successful in recounting an important moment in history and should be admired for its ambitious script and unwavering conviction to deliver it.
Photos – Mihaela Bodlovic