The Signalman is at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh for two nights only (Fri 29 Oct to Sat 30 Oct) plus a Saturday matinee performance, and if you are reading this review in time for either of the two Saturday shows then try and get a ticket as this one man performance show is pretty much perfect theatre.
We all seem to have some sort of instinctive need to not only tell a story, but to be told a story and this work, written by Peter Arnott, directed by Ken Alexander, and performed by Tom McGovern, is a text-book example of how good theatre really only ever needs two things – a good story and someone who knows how to hold the attention of an audience and tell that story.
In “The Signalman” Tom McGovern gives us a performance as Thomas Barclay, the signalman on duty that fateful day on Sunday 28th December 1879 when he cleared the passenger train safely onto the Tay Bridge. That train travelling from Burntisland to Dundee never reached the other side as the bridge was collapsed in the violent storm with the loss of the train and all onboard.
Still working as a signalman, “The Signalman” is in his signal box exactly 40 years on from that terrible night and unexpectedly he finds himself reflecting not only upon his life since then, but also that very night itself and the evidence that he gave at the public enquiry. These past and present events plus a look at why we always seem to have a culture of finding someone to blame for something in Scotland weave a story that completely pulls you into it and you find yourself waiting on Tom McGovern’s next word.
As our story unfolds we are drawn not only into the events of the public enquiry but somehow also feel like we are getting to know the family of the real signalman Thomas Barclay. There is also a very nice and unexpected story line that also weaves its way into our main story, but I will leave that one for anyone going to this show to find out for themselves.
With a gifted story-teller like this on stage, using only the most basic of stage props, plus some carefully selected sound and lighting effects, this hour long performance passes all too quickly and there is almost a little jolt to your system when the story ends and you are pulled back out of the world that has been created on stage by the power of a good story, and the theatre lights go on. You know that you are safe from the storm.
This show Presented by Raw Material & Perth Theatre, and originally produced by A Play, a Pie and a Pint at Òran Mór, as a co-presentation with Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh has already won many awards, and it is easy to see why from tonight’s performance.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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