The Silver Darlings ***1/2

The Silver Darlings is a nostalgic theatre production that is well produced but also feels completely safe.

Based on a novel by acclaimed writer Neil M. Gunn, the story follows the life of Catrine, a young woman who must fend for herself and her son when her husband is pressed for duty on the sea and goes missing.  Set against the backdrop of the 19th century Scottish fishing industry, the story is both a coming-of-age tale and social drama with historical ties set in a small community.

The production is quite handsome.  Director Kenny Ireland has created a very fluid staging for the play, with split scenes and complicated choreography helping in the storytelling.  He uses his ensemble of 10 players well, having them fill in as both a chorus and as multiple roles, and the cast are onstage for the majority of the time, even if they are merely serving as witnesses to the narrative.  John Harris’ lighting design is mostly simple, with the occasional flourish for ambiance, and Hayden Griffin’s set and costumes all serve their purpose well but hint at a much nicer environment than history probably deems true.

As for the performances, the production is filled with numerous characters that are sympathetic and likeable.  The ensemble plays multiple characters, each owning at least one solid creation that proves memorable, but the production belongs to its three leads.  Tom McGovern makes for a rather likable Roddie, a successful fisherman who falls for Catrine and serves as mentor and father-figure for her son.  Meg Fraser does rather well as Catrine, a complicated character who could have easily come across as cold but is played as smart and passionate.

The best performance of the production belongs to Finn Den Hertog, who plays both Catrine’s son (also named Finn) and her lost husband.  Hertog’s performance is commanding but also has the greatest range.  He plays Finn’s coming-of-age tale honestly, and it’s very easy to root for him, even when he behaves badly and makes poor choices.

However, with all of these strengths, the production still feels rather hollow.  The first half plays nicely but has little emotional reverb, with only small sections and the final scene giving much payoff.  Things greatly improve in the second act when scenes are allowed to carry much more emotional weight, especially between Catrine, Finn and Roddie, but there are still many moments throughout where it feels as if there was more time spent on overall style than substance.

With all this in mind, The Silver Darlings is only a modest success.  Everything looks great and is played well, but without much emotional depth throughout, it’s very difficult to invest in everything that is at stake, even with a handful of performances that do the best they can to make the audience care.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Touring Scotland, visiting Inverness, Dundee, Edinburgh, Wick and Perth throughout September and October.  Check individual theatres for specific dates and times.

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