‘Kind’ – Nominal Theatre | Edinburgh 2013
Nominal Theatre is a new company, brought together under the direction of Stephen Bailey to produce Isobel Cohen’s playwriting debut ‘Kind’. Set on a remote Scottish island, folk tales about the local birds ease troubled young Skildir’s domestic woes when she meets seasonal visitor Sulair.
Catriona Stirling is wonderful as Skildir, from her first appearance (manipulating a disconcertingly bland marionette of her younger self) through tragedy, joy and fear as a teenager, bound to the will of an abusive step-father. The other members of this ten-strong cast aren’t always present with their emotions, but Cohen’s slow build up of tension results in some shockingly powerful scenes.
Marionettes, strung three apiece, also represent Skildir’s six sisters. They suffer from an undisclosed learning disability and ‘will never grow up’, but their failure to age when Skildir does near the start of the show is somewhat confusing. So too the opening sequence showing the death of Skildir’s natural father.
The company are hindered by the restrictive space that, while adding to the claustrophobic feel of the tiny island community, becomes overly crowded and gives poor sight-lines. The pile of ladders among the distressed furniture that forms the stage backdrop later comes to represent cliff tops, but this is unclear at first, and the movement around them is often awkward.
The puppetry is at its best when making creative use of household objects hidden among the ladders – they become the seabirds Sulair invokes with his storytelling. As he narrates a tale of albatross, seagulls and oyster catchers, the ensemble bring them to life. A gloved hand and milk jug become a charming storm petrel; a squat guillemot is conjured out of a copper kettle and cutlery; a puffin appears from a tea-towel and pair of oven-gloves. The puppetry is at its worst when the cramped space and lack of technical finesse result in actors bashing heads against the marionettes’ horizontal control bars.
The play has been developed with the support of the RSC Literary Department but, at times, the language feels a little stilted and academic for a family audience. With some stronger character development for Sulair, his relationship with Skildir will seem more genuine and add a touch of sweetness to this show, which is laden with heavy domestic drama.
Written by Isobel Cohen
Directed by Stephen Bailey
Design by Connie Harper