The blast of war that opens Richard Baron's stately revival of J.M. Barrie's trauma-tinged ghost story is a telling signifier of what follows. Written in 1920 when the world was still reeling from the Great War, the seismic events that occurred between 1914 and 1918 cast the heaviest of shadows over the play.
Barrie himself introduces proceedings as played by Alan Steele, who breaks up the action throughout as he delivers Barrie's elaborate stage directions. This adds a surprisingly sly wit to Barrie's story of a young woman who vanishes twice on a Scottish island, only to return still youthful while all around her have grown old. There are little one-liners similarly peppered throughout the text, especially in the well-worn interplay between the disappeared Mary's parents, played with understated elegance by Ian Marr and Irene Allan. This has clearly become a form of self-protection as the family attempt to survive their loss.
Amidst the hokey hints of mysticism and Barrie's over-riding belief in the purity of childhood through a cosmic form of arrested development, something far more serious is going on. Hammer horror style tricks are heightened by Wayne Dowdeswell's moody lighting and a dissonant knife-edge score by Jon Beales. Neil Warmington's dust-sheet laden set doubles up as both haunted house and the possibly sacred isle which Sara Clark Downie's Mary skips her way through en route to her destiny. For all the unavoidable clunkiness of some of the play's period politesse, as lives are turned upside down several times over by events nobody could predict or understand, a palpable sense of poignancy points up a pain that haunts those left behind forever.
The Herald, June 20th 2017