REVIEW – Calum’s Road, Traverse Theatre

*****

A co-production from the National Theatre of Scotland and Communicado Theatre Company, David Harrower’s adaptation of Roger Hutchinson’s Calum’s Road forges a poignant path through themes of belonging, change and cultural identity.

Taking 20 years to single-handedly build a road on the sparsely-populated island of Raasay, Calum Macleod (Iain Macrae) is portrayed as a single-minded and taciturn workhorse, whose dream of revitalising the island threatens to eclipse his relationships with his own friends and family, particularly his young daughter Julia (Angela Hardie). By the time his quest is complete, only Calum and his understanding wife Lexie (Ceit Kearney) remain on the island — Calum’s accomplishment is not quite a road to nowhere, but is certainly one less travelled.

Gerry Mulgrew’s direction makes much of Harrower’s well-woven script. Like Calum’s road itself, the piece has many layers — from the foundation of one man’s defiance in the face of change, to the fragile surface emotions of those his life has touched. This latter aspect is best portrayed by ex-islander Iain (Lewis Howden), who returns to Raasay with his son Alex (Ben Winger) in the present day — where the road still survives, but as little more than a tourist attraction. Iain’s trip causes memories of his youth to flood back and to question what the place of his birth really means for him.

The cast evoke the simple hardships of remote island life wonderfully, particularly Hardie as young Julia and Winger portraying young Iain, in the scenes set in the past. The pair are the central point of Calum’s Road‘s theme of deciding on which direction to travel, and Hardie and Winger’s poignant performances are touchingly realistic. Howden and Kearney portray the pair in the present, and their performances are controlled and well-pitched, particularly in the beautifully understated scene where they are reunited, quite literally at the end of the road.

The simple staging is enhanced by an unfussy video backdrop which complements rather than detracts, and musical direction from Alasdair Macrae, who also performs live accompaniment on stage.

As Calum’s Road winds its way towards its poetic climax, all the raw materials combine to create a poignant and emotionally resonant piece which explores its themes with a gentle and measured pace. But they are themes which linger: a trip along Calum’s Road makes us ponder where exactly it is we ourselves are heading — and what it is that matters most.

Calum’s Road is at the Traverse Theatre until 8 June. More details on the Traverse website.

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