It’s often said that theatre should take its audiences on a journey. Cape Wrath, Third Angel’s quietly charming new show, does just that. Emerging from St Stephen’s, audience members are directed to a minibus parked up outside the theatre, into which we all pile like kids on a school trip. We’re off to visit the cape of the title, the most north-westerly point of Scotland, only accessible via the longest bus journey in Britain. Except the minibus doesn’t move so much as an inch.
The pilgrimage of Cape Wrath is instead one of the imagination, gently prodding at ideas of family, place and the fleeting community of travellers along the way. Third Angel’s Alexander Kelly is our amiable guide, steering us through three overlapping journeys to the same isolated destination. The first journey is that of Kelly’s grandfather to Cape Wrath in 1988, one of his many jaunts back up to the country he once called home; the second is Kelly’s recreation of this journey over 20 years later in his grandfather’s memory. The third trip, of course, is our own, which follows the overlapping paths of these two preceding expeditions, plotting a vivid map through the mind.
The evocation of these journeys is about as simple as theatre gets. Kelly – an immediately warm and inviting presence – shares the space of the minibus with us and tells us stories. That’s it. It’s the same activity that once sustained imaginations around the campfire, only shifted to the modern seat of adventure and brief community. In these anecdotes of strangers met on buses and in roadside hostels, a nomadic sense of community is restored, as transitory as the journey itself but real nonetheless. It’s a community that we also share with one another in the minibus, handing round chocolate and leaning over maps. Look, the piece seems to say, it’s not so hard after all. Just notice one another.
Given its miniature, personal focus, the show could be accused of being too slight, and indeed at times it does feel a little fragile. But small isn’t necessarily bad. Through this intimate story about family and travelling, Third Angel manage to delicately pack in plenty of other, bigger ideas: the psychological dimension of travelling, what ancestry, nation and place mean to us, the mythical fascination of isolated locations, how we relate to those around us. It’s simple, yes, but not simplistic.
Recalling his grandfather’s passion for travelling, Kelly tells us that he cherished the journey over the destination at the end of it, never choosing to stay long in a place once he had reached it. It was more about who and what he met along the way, the stories he heard and the whisky he drank. So for once – refreshingly – we too are asked not to worry too much about the destination; instead, we can just enjoy this enchanting ride.