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Dundee Rep Sunset Song 2024 L R Kirsten Henderson Naomi Stirrat Rori Hawthorn Samuel Pashby Danielle Jam Murray Fraser Ali Craig Ann Louise Ross Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

Supplied by Aberdeen Performing Arts

Voted Best Scottish Book of all Time by the public in 2005 Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song is easily Scotland’s most iconic and adored novel. Like many, my first encounter with the story was back in my school days and since then I have seen it performed on stage a few times.

Last night’s adaptation, a co-production from Dundee Rep Theatre and the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh and directed by Finn den Hertog is raw, realistic and a masterclass in storytelling that captivates, shocks and enthrals the audience.

This is the first adaptation where the life story of the young Chris Guthrie is told from a female perspective. This presents the audience with a very relevant, contemporary and compelling play that echoes many of the issues faced by society today.

Set in the Mearns, not far from Aberdeen, Sunset Song tells the story of Chris Guthrie, a girl with a deep affinity for the land growing up on a croft by the small village of Kinraddie.

Dundee Rep Sunset Song 2024 L R Kirsten Henderson Naomi Stirrat Image by Mihaela Bodlovic

Supplied by Aberdeen Performing Arts

The local audience will enjoy recognising many of the references to our corner of the north-east of Scotland and I’m sure this is one of the reasons I often return to the story. Like the land Chris mentions throughout the play by stating “nothing endures but the land” Chris’ character, brought to life by Danielle Jam, grows and changes with the seasons and years as the story unfolds.

Beginning in 1911 just before the onset of the First World War the story follows Chris as she makes her journey from being a girl into womanhood. With hopes of attending university and leaving a tough rural life behind her, the premature death of her mother results in Chris making the difficult decision to stay at Kinraddie with her dreams of education and teaching thus dug deep into the red soil of the Mearns croft.

Chris’ father John, played by Ali Craig, is both gritty and brutal but is also the one that encourages her to follow her dreams of teaching, so it is quite ironic that his actions inevitability lie at the heart of her obligation to stay.

Dundee Rep Sunset Song 2024 L R Danielle Jam Kirsten Henderson Rori Hawthorn Naomi Stirrat Image by Mihaela Bodlovic 130

Supplied by Aberdeen Performing Arts

The story, told in Scots language, is as fertile as the stunning yet simplistic set of four large pits of red Mearns soil which the actors move across, in and around. The backdrop of the sky is lit to beautiful effect to reflect the changing seasons and mood of the story. Movement, music and costumes are all a perfect fit for the staging which is skilfully produced.

The performances are tremendous, led by Danielle Jam as Chris herself. Supported by a fantastic ensemble, all of whom expertly play more than one character, Ali Craig brings menacing credibility to Chris’ domineering father. Ewan, Chris’ husband played by Murray Fraser, is perfectly pitched as her partner and Samuel Pashby is the Long Rob I always imagined in my mind.

This adaptation of Sunset Song is not an easy watch and at times is quite harrowing with scenes of beatings and sexual violence that are delicately portrayed but nonetheless convincing. The wedding scene is a joyful moment in what is ultimately a story of hardship and torment.

From the cast to the choreography this is a well constructed, creative and commanding adaptation of the classic novel. I was engrossed from start to finish, even with its near three hour running time, and I would encourage those curious enough to read to the end of this review to buy a ticket and go to see it for yourself, you will not be disappointed.

Find out more and tickets for Sunset Song here.

Review by Shona Byrne