Mary Woodward Review

Colin MacIntyre: The Origins of Ivor Punch, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Colin MacIntyre: The Origins of Ivor Punch

A Play, A Pie & A Pint

**** (4stars)

Being completely unaware of the band Mull Historical Society, the writer/ musician Colin MacIntyre, and his Ballad of Ivor Punch, I approached this week’s offering in PPP with a completely open mind.  It might have helped if I’d known the words of the ballad, which was used during the play [in striking contrast to Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, aka Fingal’s Cave, which also featured largely] – but I don’t think it mattered all that much!

It was intriguing to see from the programme that the cast featured Charles Darwin and sisters Isabella and Henrietta Bird.  Isabella, the elder sister, was an intrepid explorer and naturalist who was the first woman to be elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society: I hadn’t realised when I visited Tobermory for the first time last year that her younger sister Henrietta had lived on Mull and that I had seen, but didn’t register, the clock Isabella erected to her memory…

In the best storytelling tradition our story began on a dark and stormy night just before Christmas, when freely-swearing Sergeant Ivor Punch was indulging in a little ‘tree scavenging’ with his mate Randy.  And suddenly an angel appeared unto them: a woman in a long white frock, who wasn’t wet despite the stormy night, who spoke cryptically of things Ivor didn’t understand – the sound of the sea, a child’s breath, picking a flower, falling – while repeating questions Ivor had been asking himself during the drive in the dark, before vanishing after insisting that the two men drive her to a particular spot on the island…

Move back in time to the nineteenth century, and Henrietta Bird is musing on her solitary life on Mull.  She thought when she and Isabella moved there from Edinburgh that the two would live together: but her sister went off exploring unknown regions, leaving Henrietta to read the letters she sent back.  These were published in several volumes: the postman brings her the latest one.  He is silent – Henrietta muses that he carries so many words round the island with him, but uses none himself.   Slowly and almost painfully that silence is broken as Henrietta manages to extract the odd word from the postman, who is more inclined to talk about his horse, Seamus, than about himself.  It is obvious that she has an interest in this dark and silent man: it is less obvious initially that he too is drawn to her – but gradually the two draw closer…

There was a lot that was excellent in this play, and the audience loved it: the portrayal of two drunken 21st century islanders contrasted well with the stilted and very formal language of Darwin and the Bird sisters – who themselves contrasted strongly with the softly-spoken and church-and-mother-ridden postie.  Differences of language and understanding made for many amusing moments between these two, but there was also much tenderness in the awkward way two shy and lonely people reached out to each other.  Andrew John Tait did a brilliant job as Sergeant Punch and his own great-great-etc-grandfather; Tom McGovern’s drunken Randy was in strong contrast to the impeccably-dressed and -spoken Darwin; and Eva Traynor was a touching Henrietta and sympathetic though bereaved Isabella.

Why not five stars?  It was all very good, a little bit obvious, and slightly hampered by being live on stage rather than on film, especially during Darwin’s nightmare – but altogether a highly enjoyable hour’s entertainment, which left the audience feeling extremely satisfied and looking forward to the final PPP and an encounter with a toy plastic chicken…

Colin MacIntyre: The Origins of Ivor Punch, A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Runs until Saturday 11th May for tickets go to:



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