But, without warning, things start to slip and – beginning with his inability to remember the Scots Gaelic word for “somersault” – his comfortable life disintegrates.
The main focus of Iain Finlay Macleod’s 70 minute play (initially staged by the National Theatre of Scotland) is the importance of language – as a means of communication, and of preserving cultural and individual identity. It doesn’t always work.
The characters of both his wife and of the old university friend, who suddenly reappears are distinctly underwritten, and Richard Teverson’s detached liquidator (who deigns to leave him only “the necessities of life”) is a disconcertingly unearthly presence.
But the scenes conducted in a mix of Gaelic and English between James and his father (dying of cancer on the Isle of Lewis and his last link with his previously discarded roots) have a certain resonance, especially when the older man admits to throwing away the Gaelic dictionary for which he’ll have no further use.
And, although James is a far from sympathetic creation, David Carlyle plays him with total conviction in this thought-provoking if awkwardly constructed investigation into how language can define us.
Finborough, Finborough Road, SW10 9ED
Tube | Earl’s Court
Until 26th January
Image: Iain Finlay Macleod