The Stornoway Way is at The Studio at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh for three performances only (11th and 12th October), and that is perhaps an act of mercy for audiences as this stage adaptation by Kevin MacNeil from his best-selling novel of the same name is for me failing on pretty much every reference point that I use to judge and review theatre by.
I have to admit that I have never read the original book, so have no way of measuring Kevin MacNeil’s claim that he would only adapt his story for theatre if it he could improve upon it. I have also never been to Stornoway, Lewis, or any of the Western Isles, so I am reviewing this purely as the work of theatre I saw this evening.
On paper this production looked like it was going to be a show not to miss as it dealt with the many issues of growing up in an isolated community, and in particular the problems of growing up in a culture all too often deeply rooted in alcohol abuse as we focus upon our main character Roman Stornoway and his relationship with local girl and long-time friend Eilidh and later his relationship with Eva from Hungary.
This production is marketed as “an irreverent, witty and honest, a bittersweet theatrical romcom,” with an original musical soundtrack, so layering this into the very serious subject matter of our main story-line should have produced a work of multi-layer depths and emotions. Sadly, from the opening moments, it was becoming obvious that this production was not going to deliver on its promises.
For me, the problems here started with the strange decision to make this production an all female cast with Naomi Stirrat as Roman Stornoway, Rachel Kennedy as Eilidh and Chloe-Ann Tylor as Eva. Sadly, having Roman played by a female is simply not working here for many reasons, but at the top of that list is the fact that any “romcom” has to have a believable relationship between the two principals and there is nothing here from either Naomi Stirrat (Roman) or Rachel Kennedy (Eilidh) that makes me believe there is any relationship between them at all. There is a strange emotionless detachment of delivery of lines from Rachel Kennedy here too, and perhaps a lot of the problem is that this script is simply not working on so many levels for so much of the time. Gone here is that playfulness and fun that I expect from a “romcom”, even in a serious storyline like this one.
There are a few throwaway lines here that are mildly amusing, but not many, and the script all too often seems to be just a collection of clichéd phrases put together with nothing about it allowing me to get interested in any of these characters at any level even remotely enough to care what happens to them. For a character twist here, making the lead male in a “romcom” played by a female there were opportunities to do some interesting things but they never happened. It would have been far more interesting for me to have simply made “Roman” female and concentrated on a same sex relationship here.
Chloe-Ann Tylor as Eva and, at times, an analyst specialising in alcohol dependency issues gets to show a little of what she can do as an actor, but the main scene between her and Roman is once again hampered by a clichéd script that unnecessarily forces a very big issue into a very short time frame that leaves no room for any real development of it.
I said at the start of this review that I had never read the original book or been to the Westen Isles, but I have sadly known far too many people in my life with a serious (sometimes fatal) addiction to alcohol, and Roman and his addiction to my eyes simply came across as a collection of stereotypes using all too often heard one-liners. For a production dealing with such a serious issue, it is also bordering on being a “brand placement” all too often.
If there was any saving grace to this production it was in one or two of the musical numbers, but still far removed from the multi-layered and incredibly talented people that I often meet from both traditional and contemporary music scenes from the Islands. This was again a lost opportunity to bring something special to this story.
Sorry to be so negative on so many areas, but there is just so much promise to this story and maybe with a radical re-working it is still possible to let it be told.
Review by Tom King