The Yellow On The Broom
Tue 28 August – Sat 22 September
Throughout this year, Dundee Rep have presented different versions of Scotland and Scottish folk. The urban-rural culture clash of Passing Places and the derring-do of The 39 Steps have given us some entertaining fictional portrayals of Scotland and Scots; from misanthropic Highlanders to dislocated young urban men. The most recent offering from the Rep continues this trend with a lyrical and sympathetic presentation of Scottish travelling people, often reviled by ‘decent folk’ and by definition on the margins of society. The Yellow on the Broom is a dramatisation of the first book of autobiography by Betsy White, a traditional Scottish Traveler, covering her childhood years in and around Perthshire and Angus. This is a revival of Anne Downie’s faithful adaptation, directed by Andrew Panton, and brings a focus on nostalgia for a time and place and ways of living now long gone from Scotland.
Sentimental without being saccharine can be a difficult road to steer, but the Rep’s fine ensemble players manage to get it right most of the time. In particular, Ann Louise Ross is superb as the older Betsy, who narrates the story, and thus holds together the entire piece, through her memories of her younger self, Bessie. There’s a lovely point in the action where young Bessie’s father reaches out for the young Bessie’s hand, and the older Betsy’s hand reaches out for his, only to fall back again as the older Betsy realises that it’s a memory, and instead it’s the young Bessie who grasps her father’s hand.
The young Bessie is played with real energy by new member of the Rep Chiara Sparkes. Sparkes captures the tomboy of the book exactly as one would imagine her. By turns wild and carefree, by turns courageous and forthright, the young Bessie navigates the prejudice and mean-spiritedness of the ‘Scaldies’ (the non-travelling, settled people), learning how to live in the wider world and still be true to her heritage. Bessie survives bullying and taunting from schoolmates as she and her family move from town to town, and she endures her hundred days minimum schooling per year. Luckily, it seems that for every unfair teacher who unfairly punishes Bessie for standing her ground against the bullies, or bigoted policeman who moves Betsy and her family on, there is a kindly stranger who offers the travellers some food or clothes or small charity of some sort. Sometimes, there is even better luck for the family. Comic relief comes in the guise of characters from Bessie’s childhood memories – a gaggle of Glaswegian women raspberry pickers that you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night and a wonderfully eccentric Laird played by Barrie Hunter.
Family is important to travelling people and in Betsy’s case her relationship with her father, Sandy Townsley, seems to have been central to her early years. Sandy is lovingly portrayed by Gary Mackay as a wise, quiet man, ennobled but physically broken by adversity and hard work. Sinéad McKenna’s lighting effects give Kenneth MacLeod’s stark set designs the quality of illustration, especially at the beginning of each act where the stage is one great silhouette. This is an entertaining tale played with real sentiment that avoids sentimentalism and gives an enthralling glimpse of a Scotland and a group of Scots that we have forgotten, in our race to be modern.
Review: Mark MacKenzie
Photography – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
TOURING TO MACROBERT ARTS CENTRE WED 26 – SAT 29 SEP