King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 22 May 2019
Reviewed by James Knight
Lost at Sea by Morna Young, is a deeply personal project. Morna lost her father in 1989 when he was out on the fishing boats and his body was never recovered. Lost at Sea is a story containing fictional characters, but some of the dialogue comes from the fishing communities themselves, and, as the play takes great pains to say, the events are not uncommon.
Sophia McLean plays Shona, a young journalist returning to the small fishing town she was born in to discover more about who her father was. She is greeted by Skipper (Tam Dean Burn) who acts as a guide into the past – showing her her father’s story and taking the form of the collective voice of the community. We see the story revealed – her father Jock (Ali Craig) and his brother Kevin (Andy Clark) working as fishermen on the boats, planning to save up and buy a boat of their own. Money is easy to come by on the sea, but is hard earned. We hear tales of young men being washed over the side of boats, of the women scraping together what they can until the men return with their pay. As years pass, Kevin becomes greedier, Jock becomes disenfranchised with the fishing, and on one ill-fated trip is swept overboard and never found.
The play examines why these folk return to such a life-threatening job, how they can justify the risk, what has changed in the years since and how outside greed has affected their livelihood. Karen Tennent’s set ensures that a vast backdrop of waves, while sometimes hidden, is always present, looming large over the little people who sail its waters. Pippa Murphy’s music is haunting, and Thoren Ferguson’s live violin provides an immediate connection to the characters onstage, and it’s refreshing to hear the Doric spoken onstage (although the uninitiated may struggle to tune in).
The play ends with a list of men and boats lost from Moray from 1970-2012, and it’s horrifically long. The magnitude of loss that these communities is reminiscent of the First World War, the ages ranging from young to old.
With an impressive cast and an important story to tell, Lost at Sea is a powerful piece of Scottish theatre, whose final moments will linger in your thoughts.