Lost at Sea:
***** (5 stars)
Lost at sea is a dark, brooding, deeply moving threnody composed to the memory of all fishermen lost at sea, particularly the men of the north-east of Scotland. It’s an exploration of the challenges faced every day by fishermen as they go out to confront the dangerously powerful and fickle seas that surround our shores and by their families who have to deal with their loss, often not knowing why or how their loved ones died and in many cases unable to hold a funeral because the body is never recovered. Constantly changing, charming and threatening by turn, unpredictable and never to be taken for granted, the sea is both irresistible enchantress and malevolent tyrant: but the sea salt runs in the fishermen’s’ veins and they return to her again and again, fully knowing that each time they sail out they may not return.
Written by Morna Young whose own father was lost at sea in 1989, it uses verbatim the words of fishermen, their families, and local communities in the north-east of Scotland to create an ever-changing kaleidoscope of scenes from a [fictional] fishing family. Richly-descriptive words – the rich Doric of the north-east – evocative, haunting music by Pippa Murphy and almost dance-like movement directed by Jim Manganello together weave an elaborate tapestry against a backdrop of the ever-surging sea. Slowly the individual characters reveal their stories, their feelings and their often conflicting relationships as the play builds to a dramatic climax when Shona, whose father Jock was lost at sea, attempts to find the truth about what happened that day.
Meg and Billy have two sons, Kevin and Jock. Kevin’s wife Kath is from the close-knit fishing community, but Jock’s wife Eve is an incomer who does her best to fit in while knowing she will never be seen as part of the clan. Jock and Eve’s daughter Shona left the area to train as a journalist: she now returns to try to find ‘the truth’, or at least a truth that will enable her to let go of all her questioning and move on in her life. In this quest she is assisted by The Skipper, a powerfully-voiced and magnetic, somewhat mysterious character who makes free with both whisky and poetry as he tries to guide her to some understanding of the lives, thoughts, hopes, dreams and fears of her family.
The cast are outstanding. Jennifer Black’s Meg suffers during the frequent and prolonged absences of husband Billy [Gerry Mulgrew] but loves and upholds him even though she wishes her life were other than it is. Both are broken by the loss of their beloved son Jock [Ali Craig], who is open, kind, and loving, especially towards his ‘outsider’ wife Eve – Kim Gerard, who movingly struggles to carry out her promise to him to ‘move on’ on after his death but eventually is broken and has to leave the village. Jock is loyal and loving even in his troubled relationship with his brother Kevin, an unsympathetic character admirably played by Andy Clark, whose main motivation is greed, and who is unmoved by the plight of the other village fishermen, who are trapped in a downward spiral of debt while he rakes in the cash – everything he does is legal, who cares about ‘fair’? Kevin’s wife Kath [Helen McAlpine] is torn between her loyalty to her husband and her feelings for her sister-in-law’s sufferings: she does what she can, but it’s very little – and when push comes to shove she sides with her husband, however much she disagrees with what he does. Tam Dean Burn’s Skipper dominates proceedings, powerfully describing the raging sea and the turbulent emotions of the fisher-folk, playing his part among them while guiding Shona in her quest and helping her to see their individual truths while she seeks her own. Thoren Ferguson’s haunting fiddle-playing winds through the whole piece, alternately lively and elegiac, holding it all together.
Lost at Sea ends with the silent cast on stage listening with us to names of the men and boats lost from Moray between1970 and 2012, recorded in 2019 by families of those men and children and young people from Lossiemouth High School and Hopeman Primary School. It’s a deeply-moving piece that stays long in the mind and pays homage to all those who daily risk their lives to bring fish to our tables.
Lost at Sea, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh run ends 22 May, Scottish Tour Continues.
Review by Mary Woodward