Seanmhair is the Gaelic word for "grandmother". Hywel John’s new play is about grandmotherly instincts, love in an old Edinburgh, and the overarching theme of the role of women in society. Seven main characters are played by three women; aided by a gothic set and haunting poetic writing, this is a powerful production.
Molly Vevers plays the ten-year-old Jenny, who is shy and awkward but full of pluck. Hannah McPake plays her Victorian grandmother, and does a terrific job of portraying the sternness of her background but also her overwhelming matriarchal love.
Mark Bailey’s set is designed as an old town alley, setting the mood for the dark and shameful incidents which entrap Jenny and her friend Tommy MacLeish. MacLeish is played by Sian Howard, who is so convincing in her portrayal of a scruffy ten-year-old boy from the docks of Leith that she had me totally drawn in. As the plot picks up steam, and we begin to wonder about Jenny’s fate and the consequences of her actions on the lives of her family, the repetitive poetic staccato of ‘Glint, glint! Crack, crack!’ keep the narrative tight and tense.
I enjoyed the genre of theatre The Other Room have created; not quite a family drama, it's perhaps best described as tartan noir – definitely unusual. The odd touch of humour, in the form of Jenny’s interaction with older schoolgirls, was well handled. And, on the particular day I attended, kudos were due to the cast for dealing seamlessly with the peals of a fire engine just outside.
A couple of details could be clearer. McPake plays the young Jenny’s grandmother but also an older Jenny, which took me a while to figure out. And those who don't live in Edinburgh won’t get the references to the various street corners. There is a sense of contrast presented through the geography of the city, which is very clever, but also relies on intimate local knowledge.
Overall though, this is a great piece of theatre, combining good writing and fantastic acting. It's a comfortable venue too. Recommended.