The initial experience one is met with when the lights dim for Seanmhair (pronounced shen-a-var) is breathtaking. Flashes of light, dazzling expressive actors, intense dialogue delivered at breakneck speed as moments of levity are sprinkled amongst the drama effortlessly and sometimes so quickly the audience don’t catch them all. It is an arresting experience that grips the senses all at once, then it keeps going. For seventy minutes the relentless pace never settles, the dialogue never pauses and the tone never varies. It is seventy minutes of an initial atmosphere that, although stunning in conception, becomes exhausting in practice.

While Seanmhair impresses from a technical perspective throughout, as a story it eventually starts to lose the attention of the audience through lack of variation.

Seanmhair is a new play by Hywel John about two children in Edinburgh, set in the relatively distant past. The three female performers, Jenny Jo Freer, Sian Howard & Molly Vevers all play Jenny, the show’s protagonist, at various stages of her life, while simultaneously adopting the forms of multiple other characters in the narrative. There are numerous twists in the tale of the young lovers at the centre of the story and their discovery should be within the narrative, but for the most part the journey Jenny goes on is consistently interesting. In addition, all three performers are admirably talented. Jenny Jo Freer is in particular impressive from a transformative perspective, spending most of her stage time in the character of Jenny’s boyfriend Tommy MacLeish. Howard and Vevers are equally eye catching perfomers, but it is Freer who stretches her performing capabilities the most.

It is through no fault of the performers though that Seanmhair does not remain thrilling for the full length of its performance. Eventually the relentless pace of the dialogue and unaltering style of performance and storytelling leads to the narrative blurring together and important emotional moments drastically losing effectiveness. Though all three performers are talented there is not enough variation in their performances of each individual character, perhaps for fear of confusing the audience further. Tommy Macleish has one way of standing and one tone of voice, as does Jenny as a young girl and as does the titular Seanmhair (a Gaelic term for grandmother). Repeated dialogue, used for stylistic purposes, only serves to make this problem worse. While Seanmhair impresses from a technical perspective throughout, as a story it eventually starts to lose the attention of the audience through lack of variation.

Reviews by Charlie Ralph

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The Blurb

Seanmhair (feminine, Scots Gaelic): grandmother. Pronunciation: shen-a-var. A chance meeting between two children on the streets of Edinburgh unleashes a terrible reckoning, leaving Jenny and Tommy forever bound together by blood and fate. Brutal and beautiful, Hywel John's remarkable new play glimmers and cuts like a jewel, fusing raw epic romance with guttural urban poetry to tell the story of a secret generational legacy of love, violence and fury. Hywel John is the Welsh writer of Pieces: **** (Guardian) and Rose **** (Telegraph, Times and Evening Standard).