Wednesday, 15 July 2009

I Was A Beautiful Day

by Kathryn Hadley

Dan, who is originally from the village of Robhanis on the Isle of Lewis, is a veteran of the first Gulf War invalided with shellshock. Lube is a fellow inmate who befriends Dan. Anne, who works for the Ordnance Survey, is visiting Dan to ask for his assistance in completing a series of maps of Lewis. The play I Was A Beautiful Day, set in a hospital on the Scottish mainland, explores both the trauma and psychological devastation caused by war, as well as aspects of the more distant local history of the Isle of Lewis which is deeply rooted in the geography of the region.

Between 43,000 and 45,400 British forces were deployed in Iraq during the first Gulf War. Intervention by the Coalition of the Gulf War in an effort to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait began in January 1991, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2nd 1990. The coalition force included troops from 34 countries. US troops represented, however, approximately 70% of the coalition’s total of 956,600 troops. The United Kingdom sent the third largest contingent of troops and the largest number of any European nation.

As the play unravels, Dan increasingly shares his memories of the past and of his participation in the Gulf War. He killed a mother and child and is unable to forgive himself. In his mind he ‘deserve[s] [his] place in hell for what [he has] done’. It is to punish himself that he has exiled himself from his homeland on the Isle of Lewis, from the place that it is closest to his heart and from his family. To console himself, pass the time and fight his feelings of nostalgia, Dan spends his time drawing maps of Lewis to remember the history behind every feature of the landscape and every place name.

Through Dan’s maps and stories a far more remote, local and intimate history, the history of the Isle of Lewis is revealed. It is a history that is stored in the names of the places and landscape of Lewis, but which is at risk of becoming lost forever with the passing of generations. There is a story behind every name. Rubha Robhanis, for example, is a word mix of Gaelic and Norse, both words meaning headland. The two names of different origin reveal the mixed heritage of the Isle of Lewis: the Scots allegedly arrived on the island in the first century bringing the Gaelic language with them; Vikings imported Norse influences when they began to settle on the island eight centuries later.

Remembering a walk he took with his uncle around Rubha Robhanis, playwright Iain Finlay MacLeod described the importance of names as a source of local history:
‘The Vikings landed on this beach! Monks on the run! And here were their stories
set in the language of the people. A place name for each to remind us […] the
relationship between words and the places they signify. Embedded in these names
were stories. Historical-story DNA buried yet retrievable’.
I Was A Beautiful Day by Iain Finlay MacLeod opened on Sunday July 12th at the Finborough Theatre. It is the English premiere of the play, which was first performed in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in October 2005.

I Was A Beautiful Day
Sundays and Mondays, July 12th – 27th
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
London SW10 9ED


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Daniela said...

Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up great writing.

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