Sunday, 6 January 2013

Somersaults - review

Written by: Kirstie Ralph

Finborough Theatre, London

Director Russell Bolam has excelled in bringing Somersaults, a play with a Scottish heart, to London. The dynamism of the play, in which the ultimate goal is to assert a case for Gaelic heritage and language, is perfect for the intimate setting of the Finborough Theatre. First commissioned and performed by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2010, the play juxtaposes the Isle of Lewis with the plush London life of the central character James. We begin to see these two worlds come together through loss, love and language. This is a production invested in integrity, which makes for a refreshing theatrical experience.

Photo: Richard Walker
Somersaults is a fine example of the intelligent plays the Finborough Theatre is renowned for. We start with the carefree youth-zone of video games, from which James (David Carlyle) has made his money and move to the young professional lives of older James and old university friend Mark (Simon Harrison). James is making something of his life, boasting trophy wife Alison (Emily Bowker). But the change is not all positive. James cannot remember the Gaelic equivalent of the word ‘somersaults’, and what begins as an irritation represents a deeper yearning for his life to be more meaningful. We learn that language defines identity and through losing languages we jeopardise traditions, memories and relationships.

Photo: Richard Walker
Ironically, in a play where the case for language is advocated, the most memorable moments are those without words, or scenes spoken in Gaelic. James and Mark play a drinking game to The Police's Roxanne, which is comically inspired. The energy of the piece is incredible, with the audience defenceless against Bolam’s carefully engineered emotional rollercoaster. When James’ father Sandy (Tom Marshall) dies of cancer and Barrett (Richard Teverson) the convincingly harsh liquidator strips him of everything he owns, we see a broken man. David Carlyle should be commended for a role that is one hundred percent genuine. When he consumes his father’s ashes in order for Barrett to take away the Urn, the audience gasped in admiration as well as shock.

Phillip Lindley’s set design, alongside the lighting of Elliot Griggs is remarkable. The set effectively combines pleasing visual aesthetics with practicality for the actors. Bolam’s interpretation is noticeably prop-heavy, especially when James looks over his father’s loom, but just the right amount of sentimentality is included. Complex transitions between scenes are smooth and do not divide up the piece, which some productions would struggle to overcome. Tableaus, black outs and soliloquys are all used to enhance the action rather than to overcomplicate the piece.  

Photo: Richard Walker
Despite the non-linear plot being rather hard to follow at times, it’s highly engaging and we are definitely with James every step of the way. The final scene, where the fourth wall is broken and the actors advocate the case for Gaelic, may have its critics. I, however, am not one of them. It was frank and further addressed the problem head on. I strongly recommend you see this highly compelling piece with a highly accomplished production cast and crew. 

This production runs until 26 January 2013. 
@Finborough @SomersaultsPlay 

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