REVIEW: Letters to Aberlour

*****

By Isabella Fraser

In another of the WWI plays which this year’s Fringe plays host to, and based on extracts from real-life letters and stories, the subject explored is the impact of the war on a group of young men (229 in total) who all served in the war but came from Aberlour Orphanage. For many troops, family was what kept them going; for this particular group of soldiers, that family was the orphanage.

The premise behind this play is fascinating – looking at the young men who had no – or little – family, who head off to war, only to find a brotherhood of a kind in amongst the war and the connections that hold them to their orphanage roots. What detracts from this is the way in which too many stories are told. All actors are multi-cast and while they handle this well, at times, it feels disruptive to go between one soldier’s experiences to the experiences back home, to another soldier’s experience, all within a brief sequence. As these changes are handled with odd freeze-frame action, or lengthy blackouts, only the most determined will be able to find enough concentration to deal with the excessive scene changes.

What works is when the characters are allowed time to develop into fully-fledged people and sustain the events unfolding through the storyline that accompanies it. Simon Weir’s stirring and emotionally-aware Canon Jenks appears on and off through the whole play, which helps to maintain and develop his character and place within the story. Unfortunately due to the vast range of other characters, the remaining actors are not given the opportunity to sustain clear and well-rounded roles, although they do their best with the time and text given.

There is a strong ensemble and some beautiful and evocative spoken imagery in this piece. There is also a wealth of historical information that is interesting to learn about. With pruning of characters and text to enable clarity in the storytelling – and thus allowing more fluid direction – the full devastation of the impact of the war on the young soldiers and their orphanage family will be clear.

Letters to Aberlour runs until 31 August (not 17) at Just Festival at Central Hall @ 20:30. Running time is 1 hour, 50 mins.

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