Category Archives: Scotland

The Last Picture Show

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sept 8th – Sept 13th

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World War One saw the invention of unprecedented ways to kill and mutilate troops in unimaginable numbers. Many of those seriously injured survived through modern medical treatment but new battles lay ahead as they struggled to find employment and acceptance back home. Morag Fullarton’s drama tells the story of one such man, blinded and disfigured in France.

We are introduced to the primitive glories of the Picture Palace in Dunoon where a Charlie Chaplin silent film is being enhanced by a heavily pregnant, in-house piano player’s musical improvisations. There’s a watery break in proceedings which leaves the cinema in need of a new accompanist but not right away because the projector has broken too. This is of little concern to wee Willy, a boy barred from the delights of the Picture Palace for sneaking in without paying. He’s playing soldiers, dispatching the enemy while disparaging Kaiser Bill in song, when he comes across Bob, a discharged soldier, blinded and wearing a tin mask to hide the damage done to his face. The sound of an explosion takes us back in time to France where an uninjured Bob and his Aussie pal Billy deal with the realities of trench life. Then we are back in Dunoon. Then we are back in France. Then we are back in Dunoon. Then we are back in France. Then finally back in Dunoon (that’s a lot of leaping back and forth for a lunch time) where thankfully the play becomes much less frenetic and delivers a slower paced, more satisfying musical conclusion.

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Helen McAlpine should be mentioned in dispatches, not least for the number of characters she plays-
Elspeth an expectant pianist.
Jessie a formidable manageress of the Picture Palace.
Marge a field hospital Nurse.
Camille a young French girl.
Betty a young girl from Dunoon.
Charlie Chaplin (as portrayed by Betty).
Of the above, Jessie is the strongest character. A redoubtable woman not overtly sympathetic to Bob’s plight but prepared to give him a chance to show what he can do.
Matthew Tomlinson’s Bob has a quiet dignity. The mask he wears to cover his ravaged face has a disturbing neutral quality, robbing him of all visible emotions. His passion was, and salvation may be, music.
Matthew Campbell’s Willy McCallum is an impish boy whose starry-eyed visions of war come up against its cold reality. He has the irrepressible optimism of youth, which he realises can be put to good use by helping someone else achieve their goal. Campbell also plays Bob’s Australian pal in France.

Morag Fullarton, a veteran of 5 PPP productions, including the excellent ‘Casablanca, the Gin Joint Cut’ has a rather good story to tell about a man returning from war, damaged on the inside and out trying to find his way forward. The chase and slapstick Charlie Chaplin action on the picture house screen, contrasts vividly with the stills of soldiers at the front and perhaps proceedings should have remained in Dunoon, as the scene switches to France do little to advance the main narrative. On target at the beginning and end but misfires in the middle.

David G Moffat

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Ballyturk

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The Tron
Glasgow
October 4-20 

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Autumn is twinkling, the foliage is ripping itself from the branches in pastel scenes of gore, & theaters across the island are plunging script-first into their seasons with optimism & relish. In Glasgow, the lodestar of the Tron’s offerings is Enda Walsh’s recent addition to the corpus – Ballyturk. A weird play, we are dropp’d down a rabbit hole to a kafkaesque Bottom, that is to say of the Rik Mayall/Ade Edmondson kind.

So to the experience that is the mind-expanding malarky of Ballyturk. The singular setting is a hovelling bedsit, as dreary & featureless as the names of the two male actors; One, play’d by Simon Donaldson, & Two by Grant O’Rourke. These two foppish, fun-adoring fools possess a wonderful & professional chemistry, beaming out their disciplin’d soliloquies with fish-hook delivery, while waltzing thro’ quite irreverent dialogue such as;

Do bunnies have legs by the way?
We decided on five
Five – is that enough?
Lets hope so, eh!

Walsh’s ever-bubbling wordpool resembles bramble wine fermenting after using too much yeast. We were given respites, however, with some funny physical theatre around a gimmicky set, a retro 80s soundtrack, & trust me you just cant script some of those disco moves – but, of course, you can get Darren Brownlie in on choreography! From chomping rice crispies to the beat, to chucking darts at the other denizens of the Ballyturk universe, there was always something going on, completing the pincer attack on our voyeuristic senses. ‘It should bypass the intellect and go straight to the bones,’ Walsh told the Mumble.

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Wendy Seager & Simon Donaldson

You can tell Galway’s golden boy had fun writing this. From Walsh’s manic imagination, striding like a behemoth to battle, comes a bizarro spiral of cerebral scene-making, a psychedelic mantra like Virginia Woolf on laudanum, like taking peyote in a sweat lodge. Each part of the process reminded me of those plastic wands, which you dip in a solution & blow shimmering bubbles into the air, which then <POP>. In this instance, Walsh was blowing rainbow bubbles of sheer humanity, which also abruptly halted with a pop before moving onto the next piece of what appears at first as enigmatic nonsense but is in fact a penetrating basilisk gaze into the core of the human condition. After one particular <POP>., there’s a sudden change in sensation as a third character arrives on stage – Three – play’d by Wendy Seagar. In the presence of this chain-smoking, androgynous creator figure, the lads revert instantly to infantililty – stunned into silence by the presence of such valhallan authority.

Seager was a slick & welcome addition, her arrival tim’d perfectly & whose presence gave a vital head to the curiously beautiful body we’d been checking out. Altogether, Ballyturk lasted ninety minutes, with no interval & I can see why. To have broken the trance would have been a sin. As this sublime & often ethereal play continued its relentless roll, I & everyone in the audience were transfixed; shuffleless, whisperless, enthrall’d.

Damo

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It Wisnae Me

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sept 1st – Sept 6th

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In Scotland around 40% of the population carry the MC1R recessive variant gene, which results in a world-beating 13% of Scots, actually having red hair. Wha’s like us? Even the county’s favourite soft drink, Irn Bru, is ginger! So it should come as no surprise, when at the start of Allan Bissett’s play, the first primitive Scot (Ali Watt) who crouched and exchanged abusive screeches with the first primitive Englishman (Andrew John Tait) to the stains of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is wearing a Tartan Tammy with a straggly orange wig attached.

What follows is a sobering, unvarnished examination of not-so-bonnie Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade and its complicity in building the British Empire by the subjugation of other, less developed countries through the plunder of their raw materials. Few punches are pulled as Scotland (inspiringly depicted as a track suited teenager) whines and gurns its innocence in the face of a deluge of unsavoury truths. Scotland’s accuser is Big Bad Bowler-Hatted, England, who offers a fairly comprehensive list of unflattering epithets for its neighbour, many of them uncomfortably accurate.

Bissett is aware of the irony of two white men on stage discussing exploitation, so wisely introduces a young black woman (Danielle Jam) to explain the Golden Triangle that saw goods shipped from Southampton, Bristol and of course Glasgow, to Africa, where millions of the indigenous population where enslaved and transported to America. The third leg of the journey saw Sugar, cotton and tobacco sent back to Britain to be processed in industrial towns including, once again, Glasgow. It is Jam’s composed reasoned voice that draws attention to the enlightened work carried out by the Glasgow Emancipation Society in the early 1800s.

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Watt’s Jock is a lively concoction of self delusion and historic grouses. He is a deliberate caricature of the jokey lad imbued with the notion that Scots are friendly, welcoming people, because they can laugh at themselves. His knowledge of Scotland’s past is heavy on the injuries received by his country but light on those it inflicted on others. Tait’s George is less of a nationally identifiable character, more a social conscience, not unlike one of the ghosts from A Christmas Carol, pointing out unpalatable facts that need to be acknowledged before Jock and Scotland can move on.

The subject of a country’s history and national scruples when dealing with the remnants of imperialism in street names and civic sculptures is a topical one that deserves debate. Bissett’s play makes a worthy and at times amusing contribution to this discussion.

David G Moffat

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Tipping the Hat

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 24-29 

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There is a discernible line of English eccentricity runs from the topsy-turvy wordplay of WS Gilbert, through the cheeky sophistication of Noel Coward to the humorous quotidian lyrics of Michael Flanders. The latter, in partnership with friend and composer Donald Swann, produced a string of comic songs that delighted live audiences throughout the 1950s and 60s.

Flanders and Swann are the subject of this witty production (written and directed by John Bett) that sparkles with some of their most celebrated collaborations, “The Hippopotamus Song”, “The Gasman Cometh”, “The Gnu Song” and many, many more. The stage is set like a Victorian parlour with red velvet drapes, dried flowers and a grand piano but any formality is immediately subverted by sound problems with the keyboard and the affectionate teasing of the performers as they introduce each other to the audience.

Both actors appear as themselves, verbally sparring in a genteel fashion as they tell the story of Flanders and Swann. When called upon to perform a song (which they do exceedingly well) a bearded John Jack takes the Flanders’ part while Gordon Cree sings and tinkles the ivories wearing a diffident Swann’s round Billy Bunter glasses. This is a clever device that takes the duo beyond mere tribute status and allows Jack in particular, to bring a frantic physical comedy to the proceedings using a variety of props, as well as a bit of gesticulating, Scottish luvvie banter.

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The songs may be familiar but their performance is fresh and lively. And there’s politics too. An ironic discourse delivered on Dr Beeching’s massacre of the rail system, followed by a rendering of “Slow Train”, listing some of the stations that came under his axe, turns out to be a genuinely moving lament. Another surprising gem is Swann’s original tune to “A Red, Red Rose” delivered warmly in a soft bass baritone by Cree. With plenty of apposite details on the lives of the two entertainers sandwiched between the humour and iconic songs, this is a show that enlightens and entertains in equal measure.

A top piece of hat tipping, brimming with fun.

David G Moffat

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Benidorm

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Edinburgh  Playhouse

September 17th-22nd

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Following a furtive few weeks of recuperation from the reviewing the panoply of theatricalisms abounding at the Fringe, I finally felt ready for a play. It was also going to be on at the Edinburgh Playhouse, which is more of a musical theater venue these days & let me begin by saying that with the help of radio mics, it was an excellent experience to see a real play in such a magnificent auditorium as this. So what was it; well its essentially a stage version of a popular ITV show, Benidorm, which I wasn’t personally familiar with, but the vast majority of the audience were, on account of them applauding quite respectfully the entrance of the actors. These were Jake Canuso (Mateo), Janine Duvitski (Jacqueline), Adam Gillen (Liam), Sherrie Hewson (Joyce Temple-Savage), Shelley Longworth (Sam) & Tony Maudsley (Kenneth). Its playwright is Derren Little, who has poured ten years of experience writing the TV scripts into the condensed & quintessential version of his grittily real, cartoonly-caricatured Benidorm.

Benidorm on Stage begins where series ten left off, with the threat of the Solana Hotel being taken over by a larger hotelier group. What diversifies it from a conventional episode are the dance routines, flourishes of Georgian bawdiness, pantomime, cheesy one-liners & a even a top notch poem of thundering fourteeners. The storyline into which this cornucopia of spices was poured was a clever mix of Shakesperean identity-flipping & innuendo, some of which was definitely innuendon’t. There was also a remarkably refreshing classic-old-queen-pursues-young-gay-guy section, which no self-respecting member of the luvvy-duvvy theatre world would touch with a barge-pole, but was done so well in this setting & with these actors, that I was enjoying the exchange with a liberated jollity. Yes, watching Benidorm is a wee wonder in this world of serious theater & rollicking musicals – somewhere inbetween & everyone involved with the production should be proud of bringing such unadulterated live entertainment to the people.

Damo

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The Lottery Ticket

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 17-22 

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Imagine you have access to a time machine. You pop back to the beginning of the 20th century and happen to bump into mega-rich philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. You tell him a bit about yourself, how you can contact anyone in the world, pretty much instantly and by pressing a button send them a message, photo or movie. You can also talk to them and you can see each other in real time as you chat. You might mention your foreign holidays, car, the pineapples, bananas, grapes that are available to you in the supermarket all year round… and so much more. What Mr Carnegie would want know is, how many millions are you worth.

Salih, a Kurdish asylum seeker and his Polish pal Jacek, don’t feel much like millionaires, sleeping in a bin shelter in the neat back court of a block of houses (a terrific piece of set design by Jonathan Scott and Gemma Patchett). Breakfast is a banana from Waitrose’s trash. As they clean up their litter Salih finds a lottery ticket which could herald a change of fortune, especially when Rhona from the flats bursts out the back door cursing the problem she has with overflowing effluence in her toilet. The men see an opportunity. Can they fix it? Yes they can. They’ll do it by the book – literally, a do it yourself volume Jacek runs to get from the library. A pipe is blocked but they have access to a sledge hammer, what could possibly go wrong?

Nebli Basani’s Salih is a born story teller weaving fate and faith, omens and realities into unlikely probabilities. At times he steps out of the action to stand front of stage and tell tales from his harrowing past. Under a single spotlight, his tall elegant presence is endearing and commanding.

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Steven Duffy’s Jacek is a more down to earth, everyman character who just wants to work for a fair wage and send home money to the wife he loves and misses.
Helen Mallon’s Rhona is a no-nonsense, feisty Glaswegian woman who has a graphic design business to run and deadlines to meet. When not screaming at the flushing neighbours contributing to her toxic problem, she has sympathy for the men but more importantly just wants them to do the job before her important clients turn up. She’ll give them a chance but they better not mess up.

There is an interesting dichotomy at the heart Donna Franceschild’s moving play. While it would require a heart of stone not to sympathise with the plight of these two decent blokes struggling to subsist in a foreign country, the scam they feel obliged to commit would certainly leave the victim of it with a less than favourable impression of both men, and perhaps by extension, all immigrants and asylum seekers.

One thing is for sure, those lucky enough to live in this country, have a home, a reasonable income and access to free medical care, have already won the lottery of life, several times over. Buying a ticket for this excellent, nuanced drama would not be a gamble.

David G Moffat

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Tap Dancing with Jean-Paul Sartre

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 10-15 

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“All human actions are equivalent and all are on principle doomed to failure.” So said pipe smoking, deep thinker, Jean-Paul Sartre. But, as is often the case with the philosophically inclined, his advice is for giving, not taking. When it comes to searching for love, failure (or Simone de Beauvoir) is not to be contemplated.

Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn are in Paris rehearsing dance routines for the movie Funny Face. They’re giving some serious thought to the nature of the alluring deception that is their chosen profession, when they stumble across a guitar strumming, quote spouting, Jean- Paul Sartre who engages them in intellectual discourse and a bit of existential improvisation. The philosopher’s high-minded musings go out the fenetre, when faced with Audrey’s gamine beauty and he pursues her with Wile E. Coyote determination. Although elegant Fred Astaire is at hand to keep an eye on the Frenchman’s amorous intentions, he needn’t worry; cool, chic Miss Hepburn has the situation under control.

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Darren Brownlie’s Fred Astaire taps and sings with boundless energy, aptly demonstrating that true freedom comes, not from theoretical pondering on one’s derriere but through laborious and diligent practice at your craft. Those who are familiar with Brownlie’s work will be pleased to note there is room for some of the broader, physical humour (cue the giant moustache) at which he also excels. In addition to his own splendid performance, he choreographed the play.

Ashley Smith’s Audrey Hepburn is vulnerable yet full of graceful strength. Her scene as a piece of living film, slowed down, sped up, rewound, is a particular delight. She gives us two different faces of Audrey Hepburn, pixie ingénue and tiara lady in the little black dress. Kevin Lennon’s Jean-Paul Sartre is an utterly believable, shameless cerebral chancer prepared to summon whatever words it will take to ingratiate himself with the object of his desire. He is a champagne communist whose redeeming feature is self awareness. He knows for sure that God, if he exists, loves a trier.

The direction in James Runcie’s excellent play is first class with back projections of locations cleverly extending the dimensions of the stage. While the show invites us to enjoy song, dance and wit (and we do) it also slips in a deeper question. Is choosing a role to play and performing it, the ultimate existential act? A great piece of theatre you’d be out of your mind to miss.

David G Moffat

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Cyrano de Bergerac

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Tramway
Sep 1-22 (7.30)

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The story of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac has been celebrated now for over 100 years. It was written at a time of social turmoil in France, where literature had taken on the character of oppression. Cyrano stands out as being set in a point of history but is an endearing love story that spans the ages, and lends itself well to Edwin Morgan’s feisty Scots translation.

This collaboration between Edinburgh and Glasgow theatre groups; The Citizens Glasgow and Royal Lyceum Edinburgh had a feeling that something happened that hasn’t quite happened before in theatre; an entire play totally dedicated to the very heart of theatre. In the modern world sets are changed without a curtain call and as part of the scene. The great stage at Glasgow’s Tramway – temporary home to the Citizens while their premises are being refurbished – took to this very well in its flexibility and incredibly simple function.

This play is nothing if not spectacular, with its amazing colourful costumes and over-the-top staging, each character being defined by their respective costumes – the more frills, the more important they were. Then we have the entrance of Bergerac himself (Brian Ferguson), a commanding presence immediately, with his thick Glaswegian and his poor appearance. This accent added freshness and life to the dialogue and all of the players delivered their lines with gusto. Jessica Hardwick as Roxane’s full-on Scottish accents sounded masterful, and brought sincerity and great power to her character.

Cyrano’s inspiring wisdom, that he called wit, was so absorbing. He grew and grew through his deeds that felt appealing to our hearts, everything was important. Bergerac in the original, has a famous scene wooing of Roxane offering love words to Christian, played by Scott Mackie, for Christian to use.

Bergerac was torn apart by the idea that she could never love him because of his big nose. As his nose and his love developed, he stole the show, and our hearts, every time, his presence changing as his humility himself grew to the size of his large nose. The poetic and romantic dialogue was coupled with sword fighting, choreography, food, wine, bread. Food that was served by the comic chef in chef whites (checkers) that were a few sizes too big.

The actors’ voices were arresting and travelled far into the theatre, also enhanced by microphones. Bergerac shouted in a fast song about “these are the cadets…” Bergerac’s love for Roxane was a secret to her and the tragedy was touched upon throughout. Her character was the centre of the show, her dresses and her words had the ability, like Bergerac, to convey serious thoughts.

This is a wonderful, joyful production, drawing us in to the complex plot and heartfelt performance by Brian Ferguson, screaming for love as Bergerac. The three hours simply flew by and leave you feeling grateful for having witnessed it. Not to be missed!

Daniel Donnelly

five-stars

Outside In

 

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
3rd-8th May

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Jay, a distressed young man in tartan pyjama bottoms and floppy slippers, paces anxiously while awaiting the return of his mother with the milk he desperately needs for his late supper of Rice Krispies. The agoraphobia that won’t let him leave the house is reinforced by a succession of bleak reports on the TV news. What the nervous Jay doesn’t need, is a hand wiggling through the letter box like a horizontal Lady of the Lake, holding not Excalibur, but an automatic pistol that drops with a clunk to the floor. Soon Coco, an apparently aggressive youth is pounding at the door, demanding and gaining entry to the flat – and there’s still no sign of mammy and the milk. Could things get any worse? Well on the plus side, local police officer Kayleigh, who is on a shots-fired case and hungry, can take her Rice Krispies without milk. She does have a few questions though, that both of the guys might struggle to answer.

Christian Ortega’s Jay and Martin Quinn’s Coco are a delightful pair of seemingly mismatched characters that find they have more in common than they think. As they bounce hilarious, perfectly timed, verbal misunderstandings off each other an unlikely bond is built that softens the would-be gangster Coco, and toughens the stay-at-home Jay. Their musings about the possible ways of eating soup without a bowl, straight off the table, is a discussion Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon would have lapped-up.
Katie Barnett’s officer Kayleigh is a good natured, well grounded cop who knows Coco has ‘previous’ and works slowly but surely to unravel the case. Not short on dry humour, she opines that “Nobody should be in a gang that doesn’t have a tree house.”

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Chris Grady has written a comedy drama as bright as officer Kayleigh’s high vis jacket. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to keep the audience entertained, the dialogue is sharp and fresh, the characters funny and rounded. A highly entertaining play well worth getting out of the house to see.

David G Moffat

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The Yellow On The Broom

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DUNDEE REP
Tue 28 August – Sat 22 September

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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