The story of a world at war, a class system in crisis and a new world aching to be born, Robin Lewis's The Cone Gatherers is seen as one of the great Scottish novels of the last century.
Set in the shadow of World War Two, it tells of the arrival of two gypsy brothers to a grand Scottish estate. Charged with collecting the seeds of pine trees, the brothers prove a catalyst for a series of events which forces the ruling gentry to jolt awake from its 400 year long sleep.
The play is a pleasant mix of the themes of the literary genres which inspire it: there's Duror, a malevolent gamekeeper who proves Henry James's qualms that one's servants are not to be trusted; there's Callum, a naive Romantic who sees nothing but beauty and life in the nature around him. But whilst the source material is rich, its transition to the stage is altogether less certain.
Dramatically, the production lacks the finesse which might be expected. The transitions between scenes are uneven, lacking emotional boundaries, and director Kenny Ireland is guilty of some bizarre and perplexing artistic decisions in the staging of the piece. Peter Arnott's script does not afford enough room for characters such as Duror to develop and, subsequently, the actors cannot mature throughout the performance.
As a consequence, The Cone Gatherers becomes a production which, like gamekeeper Duror, struggles to understand what it is or where it fits in in the world; it never fully commits to being a period drama, or a play with songs, or a symbolistic ballet, or a straight play. It feels lost in the woods of its own creation.
The Cone Gatherers is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, from 25 to 29 September.