Theatre review: Sea Urchins Dundee Rep: What they did on their holidays

The shading of innocence into experience, and the inter-generational dynamics through which this eternal transition is played out, have formed a recurrent preoccupation of Sharman Macdonald's work. Best-known in this respect is her much-feted debut, When I Was A Girl I Used to Scream and Shout, and The Winter Guest, from which she co-adapted her original script for Alan Rickman's recent hit film.

The same themes resurface in this, her latest stage premiere - reworked from its original Sony Award-winning radio version - which finds two fraternally- linked branches of the same Welsh/Scottish family holidaying together in Wales, all the action unfolding on the symbolically palindromic date of 16 June 1961.

As this numerical pivot craftily hints, for both the Williams clan and the country at large things seem to be hang in the balance. Cusps, dualities and dialectics abound: between Fifties post-war conservatism and the nascent social and cultural upheavals of the Sixties; between childhood, adolescence and adulthood; between love and hate, aspiration and acceptance, romance and reality, interior and external worlds, men and women ...

Standing half-bewildered, half-knowing in the midst of these tensions is Macdonald's pubescent, characteristically square-peg-ish central character, Rena, so exasperated with her relatives that she repeatedly and urgently attempts to summon the bogeyman figure of a supposed serial killer, whose exploits have been enlivening the Scottish press back home, to dispatch the lot of them.

The decidedly dark edge of this childish wish-fulfilment fantasy is an example of Macdonald's skill at layering and inflecting the drama's emotional narratives, conveying the push and pull of incompatible yet coexistent longings.

From a list of the characters' various interrelationships, their tale might sound suspiciously over-burdened and schematic. Rena's roving-eyed father, John, and her aunt, Dora, are having a long-term, open-secret affair; her mother, Ailsa, is feeling doubly threatened and insecure thanks to the newly-blossomed beauty of Dora's teenage daughter, Rhiannon, who is secretly in love with a married man, while Rena herself resents her younger cousin, Noelle, for looking down on her and putting on airs - and then Dora's eldest son, Gareth, discovers not only her infidelity, but his father's tacit resignation to it.

Macdonald, however, mixes all this within a convincing realisation of family holidays' familiar glitchiness and intermittent boredom, using the adults' constant resort to swapped snatches of popular song or forced jocularity as an all-too-revealing cover for the seething undercurrents. She has an enviable knack of lending seemingly the simplest of lines a multiple resonance, while avoiding the plod of overtly self-conscious intent.

This layering effect is mirrored by designer Jacqueline Gunn's stylised version of the cove and overlooking cliffs which form the play's setting, with many scenes involving characters espying or overhearing one another from unseen vantage points. On opening night, however, the multi-facetedness didn't permeate quite so integrally through the performances, a degree of stiffness rendering the dialogue's shifts of tone and compass sometimes less than fluid.

All the characters, though - with 12-year-old Natasha Gray's Rena deserving specially honourable mention - are developed and defined forcefully enough for this aspect of their delivery to ease up as the production runs itself in.

Until 6 June (bookings 01382 223530), then at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 17 June to 11 July (bookings 0141 552 4267)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

    £30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

    Recruitment Genius: Fence Installer - Commercial

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This privately owned Fencing Co...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £22,000

    £17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you answer yes, this company...

    Recruitment Genius: Project / Account Manager and IT Support

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in Online Pro...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'