First published in The Times, Thursday March 12 2020
There is so much going in this collaboration between Theatre Gu Leòr and the band Whyte that it comes as something of a surprise to realise that the show’s running time is a tight 75 minutes. Maim blends movement, story vignettes and multimedia with the band’s characteristic fusion of electronica and Gaelic song to explore life in Scotland’s far-flung communities, notably the fragile status of the Gaelic language and culture. The result is a unique hybrid that works its spell slowly, exerting a powerful pull.
The show is no less compelling for not following a single dramatic through-line. Rather, the director, Muireann Kelly, and her cast of four, interweave disparate elements to create a rich, thematic patchwork. A recurring concern is the ill treatment of Gaelic-speaking areas down the generations and the knock-on effect for an already threatened culture. Many of the fragments included here derive from the cast’s personal memories of places like Glen Forsa in Mull, which had a healthy Gaelic-speaking population until the 19th century, or Berneray on North Uist, while other stories and songs are told from the point of view of the islands themselves; struggling to remain afloat as the waves rise, overwhelming their coastlines.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Although the show’s tone is for the most part one of melancholy, there are some welcome divergences. The duel between fiddlers Elspeth Turner and Evie Waddell, in which the pair duke it out for supremacy while remaining in perfect playing synchronicity, is a small delight. There are moments of heightened emotion and challenge, too, in particular Turner’s anecdote about the trip she took with her father and daughter, and the fury she felt at the erosion of their heritage. Anger simmers away beneath the surface of a deceptively quiet show. The title’s meanings range from “panic” and “terror” to “an outburst”.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
The evocative storytelling sits agreeably alongside the haunting music, created and performed by Alasdair C Whyte and Ross Whyte, and understated passages of movement, choreographed by Jessica Kennedy, in a space that’s starkly lit by Benny Goodman. Certain sequences stir the blood more than others, but the show’s accumulative effect is startling.