Theatre review: Thank God for John Muir


IN 1867, when he was almost 30, John Muir, the future father of environmentalism – born in Dunbar but then living in Wisconsin – suffered an industrial accident which left him blind for more than a month. His eyesight returned, but his weeks in the dark sharpened his powerful love for the natural world, to the point where he vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to its preservation.

This is the experience which inspired Andrew Dallmeyer's new monologue for the Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season; and it's very much a play of two halves, the only problem being that the first and worse half lasts for more than 35 of its 40 minutes. As the play opens, musician Annie Grace leads actor Garry Collins on to the stage – eyes bandaged, body hunched as if he was playing an arthritic 80-year-old – and then retreats to a corner to plink her way through an illustrative accompaniment, while he describes his obvious plight at great and repetitive length, bewailing how he is never to see this or that again.

Some of Dallmeyer's lyrical descriptions of nature are beautiful, in a teenage-poetry way. Adding a few sounds, though, hardly makes compelling drama out of such a monologue; and Collins goes into one of his occasional dire performances, his face hidden, his body in a weird rictus, and his voice alternately wry and whiny, unequal to the challenge of sustaining the drama.

The play half-redeems itself, though, in the final moments, when the bandages come off, and Muir – face suddenly radiant with joy – pledges himself to his future work. This is Collins at his most compelling and if it doesn't quite make up for the half-hour that precedes it, it's still a memorable moment, and a welcome reminder of one of the great stories in the shared history of Scotland and North America.