As a poetic meditation on the near intolerable loneliness of being left behind when a loved one dies, this co-production from Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum and London’s Bush Theatre has all the makings of a satisfying piece of drama. The difficulty with The Girl with Red Hair is that writer Sharman MacDonald seems to have had too much of an eye on that drama taking the form of cinema, rather than theatre.
That said, a brilliantly realised set from Robin Don and fluid direction from Bush artistic director Mike Bradwell ensure that the East Neuk of Fife is brought magically to the stage and the aftermath, a year on, of the death of young Roslyn in a car crash is also brought into focus.
Quartering the set, vertically, helps create an evocative fishing village - which feels almost hot enough to be in the Mediterranean not midsummer Scotland - and allows each scene to flow into the next.
Patricia Kerrigan plays Cath, emotionally neutered since her daughter's death but just about able to allow herself to be seduced by Christopher Dunne's Stuart, who’s staying at her quayside hotel. On the shore, Sean Biggerstaff as Matt, Roslyn's boyfriend at the time of her death, maunders around, playing the guitar. These three are watched by Helen McAlpine's spiky Izzy, who worshipped the older Roslyn, and Izzy's emotionally confused friend, Pam, sweetly realised by Joanne Cummins.
Providing a balance to the maudlin self-indulgence of these perpetual mourners, two elder women, Sadie and Ina, are up in the graveyard. They’re near Roslyn's grave but they have their own dead to remember. Sandra Voe and Sheila Reid bring a real sense of satisfaction to these two bickering old friends who, despite having known each other for years, still have secrets to discover about each other.
Wandering between them all is the white-clad Corinne, Matt's current girlfriend, who suffers the indignity of having a dead rival who can do no wrong. It’s a delicate role to play, but one which demands rather more presence that Emma Campbell Jones brings to it. Indeed, it would not be hard to mistake her for Roslyn's ghost - a role she should only allude to, not actually embody.
Swinging wildly between extremes of subtlety and crudeness - Izzy and Pam's relationship is brilliantly developed while Biggerstaff and Campbell Jones really should learn how to swear on stage – MacDonald’s play is packed with potential. However, at least in this format, that potential is not realised.
- Thom Dibdin (reviewed at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh)