First published in The Times, Wednesday May 1 2019
Morna Young began work on this, her first full-length play, in 2011, but the tragic story at its heart has been bubbling beneath the surface for much longer. Young, from the fishing community of Burghead in Moray, lost her own father, a trawlerman, to the sea in 1989, when she was five years old.
Lost at Sea is in part an attempt by the playwright to make sense of that tragedy. The central narrative thread focuses on a young journalist, Shona (played by Sophia McLean), who returns to the Moray coast from Aberdeen in earnest search of answers to the mystery of her father’s death at sea, and encounters a clamour of voices eager to help her piece together the puzzle, led by Tam Dean Burn’s otherworldly, omniscient Skipper.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Young’s ambition goes beyond personal autobiography. Rather, she uses her own experiences as a lens through which to examine the wider culture and politics surrounding seafaring and the fishing industry. Andy Clark is excellent as Kevin, the brother of the dead man, and the embodiment of a ruthless culture of overfishing that carelessly endangers lives while wreaking environmental damage. The play opens and culminates in the tense and subtly revealing encounter that takes place between uncle and niece.
Like her protagonist, Young has a background in journalism, and certain scenes are based on interview material gathered from coastal communities in the northeast of Scotland. Rather than disrupting the flow, these are woven seamlessly into the narrative, giving the writing a rich texture, woven of character and vivid reminiscences. The director, Ian Brown, has assembled a fine, nine-strong ensemble, with standout performances from Helen McAlpine as Kevin’s ambivalent wife and Jennifer Black as the matriarch who, in one amusing scene, tries to push ever more food on guests at a family dinner.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
If Brown invests the storytelling with the drive of a thriller, much of the show’s imagery is romantic, with movement being deployed to depict the moment of Jock’s (Ali Craig) death, and Katharine Williams’s nuanced lighting coming together with Karen Tennent’s video design to capture the power and unpredictability of the sea. Traditional songs and music, composed by Pippa Murphy, and performed by musician Thoren Ferguson and the ensemble, bring added poignancy to a story that is both of its time and timeless.
Box office: 01738 621031, to May 4, then touring Scotland to May 24. Mornayoung.com