Tarbet is the least exotic destination on the Traverse Theatre's departures board in its "Travel Agency" season of new writing at the Edinburgh Fringe. And, with water everywhere in Linda McLean's play Shimmer, presented by the Traverse Theatre Company itself, the dreich weather is hardly going to have visitors beating a path to this Scottish village. Its name means "isthmus", a stretch of land between waters - in this case, Loch Lomond and Loch Long; and, on crossing the small wooden gangway on to dry land, three women travellers on their way to Iona open the floodgates and release a stream of memories.
A grandmother, mother and terminally ill daughter each have their own course to chart across the stormy waters of their relationships - with each other, with past friends and with long-dead relatives. Washed up in a B&B, these co-dependent women find their safe haven occupied by three men of roughly matching ages. It is clear that the six are on a journey, dragged back by their pasts, uncertain of the future beckoning them forward, their lives tangentially tangled perhaps, but perhaps not.
As the same scene is played three times, this theme-and-variations takes on a rhythm of its own. Perspectives alter, new dimensions emerge, strands of story overlap and then take divertingly quirky turns. McLean has a lucid way with words, adroitly interweaving richness and humour in language that straddles punchy rawness and gentle poetry.
An exploration of the leaving of loved ones and isolation of those left behind could be chokingly sentimental, but McLean avoids that, focusing instead on the living, like the Aboriginal "shimmer" paintings in which grief is transformed into a celebration of past lives.
The dialogue as well as the stage is awash with metaphors that sometimes threaten to drown these six characters in search of dry land. The men add their own intriguing twists and fishy tales. There's unexpected pathos in their fragmented accounts of experiences come and gone, poignant reflections on what has or might have been. But instead of flowing smoothly and moving on, as McLean is trying to get her characters to do, the story gets stuck at times, reiterating instead of developing, with the result that we, and occasionally they, flounder.
In Una McLean's portrayal of the eldest woman, Hen, there's a feisty sparkle and grit that keeps things buoyant. It's easy to see how she riles her daughter, the quizzical Missy (Hilary Lyon), the middle layer of this generational sandwich, in whom you sense quiet despair turning to the optimism at the heart of Shimmer.
Lesley Hart is the afflicted Petal, whose desperation to let go of life is as urgent as her need to answer the call of nature. In Lynne Parker's fluid staging, the very moment at which Petal is finally able to loosen the ties keeping her unwillingly earthbound slips gracefully past like (at best) death itself - the final dance, which, while not exactly Dancing at Lughnasa, is touchingly life-affirming in a play in which so many fragile and ghost-ridden reminiscences float to the surface.
To 28 August (0131-228 1404)
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