For the second year running Scottish company Stellar Quines have taken a Canadian story and given it a Scottish cast. And for the second year running, it's a delight. Last year it was Jennifer Tremblay's trilogy of monologues, this year Linda McLean’s adaptation of stories by Nobel laureate Alice Munro.
It's pure storytelling, narrated in the third person by a cast of five who adopt the roles of the Laidlaws, a 19th-century Scottish family crossing the Atlantic to start a new life in Canada. The Laidlaws actually existed, as historical records show, just one family among the estimated million Scots who sought the New World.
The stories that Munro collected expose the small joys and the simple tragedies of family life, but there’s also a chilling parallel with the millions of people still boarding, in Munro’s words, "leaky sepulchres" to escape poverty and war.
Munro’s elegant, uncomplicated prose is the focus here, but it’s accentuated by careful touches of theatricality. When baby James goes missing on board ship, his aunt Mary (Nicola Jo Cully) runs up and down the aisles of St Mark’s Church in her desperate search for him. When a child dies on board, a white bundled sheet in the shape of a bairn is unravelled into nothing – followed, movingly, by total silence. Old hymns and new compositions by Pippa Murphy evoke the ancient Scottish landscape that the Laidlaws are leaving behind.
Under Marilyn Imrei’s direction it’s almost possible to feel the churning and listing of the ship as it crosses the Atlantic, its passengers facing the wrench of leaving an old home behind, and the tense excitement of building a new one on the other side of the world.