Review: SUNSET SONG, Edinburgh Lyceum

This adaptation of the iconic 1932 novel digs up the dirt of rural Scottish life.

By: May. 31, 2024
Review: SUNSET SONG, Edinburgh Lyceum
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Review: SUNSET SONG, Edinburgh Lyceum Labeled the most important piece of contemporary Scottish literature, Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel Sunset Song is an ongoing frontrunner of nationwide school curricula. Now this haunting coming-of-age narrative returns, reimagined beautifully for live theatre.

Set in early-1900s North East Scotland, farmer's daughter Chris Guthrie navigates love amidst deprivation and family misfortune. Chris has a tumultuous life punctuated by abuse,   sexual assault, sexuality, friendship, ambition, female empowerment and the geopolitical crisis of World War I.

She becomes torn between "English Chris" who aspires to pursue teaching, and "Scottish Chris" who works outside on the land. As she undergoes many ups and downs from girl to woman, we are consistently reminded that "nothing endures but the land". 

Emma Bailey's set design reflects this sentiment creatively. Sporting a large square of loose brown soil, she provides an unconventional space for actors to move across, dance on and dig into. Complimented by Emma Jones's lighting, the imagery of a cultivated field underpins the piece.

Actors are also musicians, and singers, and dancers... this multi-talented group is 8-strong, many embodying a variety of captivating characters.  Rori Hawthorn's Jean undergoes a carefully crafted tragic descent, Naomi Stirrat's Will is delightfully convincing as an ambitious young boy, Danielle Jam charts Chris' growth from girl into womanhood with engaging precision. The piece is entirely in Scots - after a few minutes of adjustment I found the language fine to follow, however some who've spent less time here may struggle.

The piece's trigger warnings should not be taken lightly. Scenes of sexual violence and abuse are delicately conveyed but disturbingly convincing. The runtime is on the longer side (2 hours 50 minutes), but don't let this dissuade you. Time flew by in this timeless adaptation of a classic Scottish tale. 

Sunset Song is at the Lyceum until 8 June

Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic


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