‘Calum’s Road’ leads to a National Theatre triumph

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THE remarkable story of how one man in his 60s built a two-mile road in a bid to connect his community to the modern world will be brought to Berwick on Tuesday night.

Following a groundbreaking performance of ‘The Strange Tale of Prudentia Hart’ in The Maltings Stage Door Bar in February, the National Theatre of Scotland are returning to Berwick to tread the boards in the Main House with ‘Calum’s Road’, a co-production with the Communicado Theatre Company.

Central character Calum MacLeod, having battled the inaction of authorities on Raasay for years, sets off alone with a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow to build a road that will connect up the island he lives on.

He wants to turn the tide of neglect and indifference and keep his family and community together. His unpaid labour of love was to dominate the last 20 years of Calum’s life and leave behind a legacy both practical and poetic, carved into the landscape he loved.

The man whose book inspired the play, Roger Hutchinson, was one of the first people to cover Calum’s efforts, having received a tip-off while working at a Highland newspaper.

Roger told ‘The Guide’: “I worked for the Highland Free Press in the late 1970s and in 1979 I received word that the Highland Council were thinking of Tarmacing a road on Raasay.

“As I dug deeper I found out there was a lot more to the story and that’s when I was introduced to Calum and found out exactly what he’d done.

“Calum lived in the north end of Raasay, an area which had never had a proper road. He told me that when he was younger there were hundreds of people living there but as the 20th century went on all the young people were leaving to go somewhere else. No proper road meant no electricity or running water and after the council rejected a petition for a road in the early 1960s, Calum decided enough was enough. By that point he and his wife were the only people left in the community but he was determined not to leave.”

What happened next was quite remarkable, particularly for a man in his 60s, and nearly 30 years after writing the original story for his newspaper, Roger was inspired enough to put pen to paper on a whole book dedicated to Calum and his cause.

He continued: “After reading a book written at the turn of the 20th century about how to build roads, Calum set out with a wheelbarrow, a pickaxe and a shovel and set about building the road. As well as being an elderly gentleman by this point, Calum also had animals and crops to look after; was the local postman; and was also assistant lighthouse keeper in a nearby community.

“He basically hacked the road out of the landscape which to make matters worse was very rocky and hilly. Fortunately he came from a family of stonemasons so had the skills required. The two-mile stretch took him nearly 20 years to finish and what Calum ended up with was a piece of landscape art as well as a road!”

By the time Roger decided to write his book about five years ago, Calum had unfortunately passed away, as had his wife Lexie, but Roger said he had a lot of help from Calum’s surviving relatives and former neighbours.

“I’d written a few books before Calum came to mind and I thought I’d have enough material to write one about him. His story is all about a quixotic gesture by an elderly man to save a dying culture.

“The people I got in touch with about Calum were supportive but were surprised about me writing the book. His daughter Julia was a big help as were his younger brother and some of his neighbours who had left the area before the road was finished.”

And after his book proved a success, just how did Roger feel about his book being transformed into a play?

“It was around nine months ago when the National Theatre and Communicado got in touch with me and although flattered, I wondered quite how they’d do it.

“For starters a story about a man building a road isn’t the most dramatic; it’s hardly ‘Macbeth’!

“But having seen the show for myself in Glasgow a few weeks ago I have to say it’s an absolutely amazing production. Obviously I’m slightly biased but I can’t speak highly enough of the cast, director Gerry Mulgrew and playwright David Harrower; they’ve done a fantastic job and it’s a fitting tribute to Calum.”