National Theatre of Scotland

Scenes for Survival

27/08/20

BBC iPlayer/YouTube

Scenes for Survival is a series of short digital artworks created by leading Scottish theatre and screen talent, co-produced by the BBC and the National Theatre of Scotland.

It’s a mixed bag, that’s for sure, a veritable cornucopia of ideas, all inspired by or relating to lockdown. Their variety is their strength; there is a sense of universality, of common suffering. Some of them are frustratingly short: the briefest of glimpses into a situation or psyche, and – inevitably – some are better than others, although they’re all high quality, as they should be, with actors, writers and directors of such calibre.

The obvious standout so far (they’re still being made) is Fatbaws, written by Douglas Maxwell and performed by Peter Mullan. It’s a simple, cheeky little idea – a man being bullied by the birds in his garden – but the writing is exquisite and Mullan’s performance is jaw-droppingly good, a masterclass in character acting. No mean feat when two of the characters are a crow and a pigeon.

I also like Larchview by Rob Drummond, where Mark “Ubiquitous” Bonnar plays a disgraced minister making a public apology for breaking lockdown rules. His progression from phoney contrition to peevish defensiveness is deftly conceived, and there’s redemption too, as he begins to hear the emptiness of his excuses, and a real sense of remorse emerges. It’s cleverly humanising – and Lord knows our politicians need a bit of that.

Alan Cummings stars in Johnny McKnight’s twisty three-parter, Out of the Woods. It’s a shaky hand-cam thriller, depicted as a series of FaceTime calls between a man and his mother and his child. He’s creeping through the woods to his estranged partner’s house; he’s picking up their daughter, but her other dad is not to know…

But honestly, even if these don’t appeal, there are so many to choose from, there’s something here for everyone. Retired Inspector Rebus (Brian Cox – not that one) puts in an appearance, courtesy of Ian Rankin, and there are contributions from many of Scotland’s best-loved creatives, including Val McDermid, Elaine C Smith and Janey Godley.

So, take a peek. See what tickles your fancy. Because strong original content has been a rarity for the past few months, and these are a real treat, as well as a vital documentation of our times.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

The Last Queen of Scotland

 

12/08/17

Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh

This powerful production by Stellar Quines Theatre Company, commissioned and supported by the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep, is written by Jaimini Jethwa, and based on her personal experience. It tells the story of the Ugandan Asians, expelled by Idi Amin in 1972. With just ninety days’ notice, they were robbed of everything they owned and despatched to whoever would give them a home. Jethwa’s family ended up in Dundee. Her story is told by an unnamed young woman (Rehanna MacDonald), a character who has grown up in Scotland but who is still slowly coming to terms with what happened to her family when she was a baby.

MacDonald delivers an incendiary performance, pacing restlessly back and forth across the stage as she recalls her childhood memories, her teenage years running wild on the streets of Dundee and her recent trip back to Uganda to revisit the family home. She’s ably supported by Patricia Panther, who adds some resonant songs to the mix, providing a constant onstage presence, mostly watching in silence as the events unfold. (In truth, I would have liked to have heard a little more from her, but I guess you can’t have everything.)

This is a fascinating slice of history, brilliantly recounted and economically directed by Jemima Levick. Lovers of good theatre shouldn’t miss this one.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney