• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Review: Group Portrait in a Summer Landscape

ByJemima Hawkins

Oct 11, 2023
People gathered around a dining table

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Set in the midst of social and political unrest in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014, Peter Arnott paints a fluid picture of a fractured family, and inextricably intertwined friends, on the brink.

What they are on the brink of, however, remains largely unclear.

Haunting the manor, and its weekend inhabitants, is Will (Robbie Scott), the dead son of the household and child of pretentious writer and disgruntled academic George Rennie (John Michie) who has gathered friends and family to his country pile for a ‘retirement party’, turned enigmatic airing of dirty laundry.

Will moves jerkily about the stage, accompanied by strobe lights and snippets of past conversations presenting a crumbling picture of a family divided by grief and lost potential, with a much brighter past than the present. Most keenly affected by his loss is Edie Rennie, the weary mother of the household, driven to apathy by an emotional gulf between she and her husband, and the elusive presence of a lost child. His omnipresence keenly illustrates the permanence veil death leaves upon a family.

The first half displays a dolefully chaotic gathering of suitably dispersed and detached characters that have, or will, all reside on the same family tree through romantic connections both lost, and yet to begin. Politically fractured ideologies are brought together in a forum of usurpation and condescension where loyalties are tested, and eggshells walked on.

As the promised dinner party opens Act 2, the conversation is anything but stagnant. George’s former student and now infamous TV personality Charlie (Matthew Trevannion) takes pleasure in provoking the liberals as the conversation turns to the upcoming future of the devolved nation. What begins as an intriguing conversation in which each character details the why and wherefore of their ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote, this comes to a sudden and abrupt end and is not touched on again, a shame for a production that claims itself to be the ‘Scottish Chekhov’.

What does follow is the unexpected announcement of a dying man, bringing together friends and family to inform them, in a rather macabre manner, of his own demise, thus putting an end to the politically charged conversation in favour of one centred on impending mortality. A further character key to the narrative is Edie’s jovial friend Jimmy (Benny Young) who acts as her solace throughout the turmoil of the play and is one of the only characters to bridge the gap between past and present in personally addressing Will and drawing the chaos into a series of emotional soliloquies that close the production. This play is a political reckoning that questions our beliefs in what we live and die for, and how one question could change the lives of so many.

Image ‘Group Portrait in a Summer Landscape’ by Fraser Brand provided via Press Release