Festival review: The Idiot at the Wall; Bedlam Theatre (venue 49)

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AN ADROIT reworking of the age-old “cruel sister” folk narrative, set on a tiny Hebridean island soon after the First World War, Elspeth Turner’s play – the debut production from her company First Bicycle – is a strong and lyrical piece of theatrical storytelling, primarily in English but resonantly laced with Gaelic.

Of the two Mackenzie sisters, Odhran (Turner) has stayed at home to look after the croft and their two brothers – bluff and forthright eldest John (Scott Cadenhead) and “simple”, second-sighted Uistean (Gregory Thomson) – while Sorcha (Lucy Goldie), who’s back for a visit, has flown the nest and climbed the ladder both educationally and socially.

Accompanying her from London is aristocratic folklorist Henry Rathbone, seeking to record local stories and customs, who finds himself seduced by the island’s “poetry” even as he concurs with Sorcha as to its “backwardness”.

As the ensuing tale fluidly interweaves romance, prophecy, jealousy and tragedy, its scene-changes punctuated by snatches of Gaelic song, Turner’s vibrantly compelling lead performance is mostly well-supported by her colleagues, and while the emotional dynamics of the piece are sometimes underplayed, it’s a nonetheless graceful, thoughtful portrayal of a remote traditional community amid a world comprehensively in flux.

Rating: * * *

Until 25 August. Today 3:25pm.