Stephen McCole

Scotties

27/09/18

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Michael (Ryan Hunter) is fifteen years old, and he’s got homework to do. He’s been told to write an essay on local history, but he’s not sure where to start. The library’s shut because it’s a bank holiday, and his dad (Stephen McCole) is annoyed with him for being so disorganised. There’s tension in the air. Michael’s mum (Mairi Morrison) speaks to him in Gaelic, but Michael responds pointedly in English. He’s feeling rebellious, rejecting his roots. Only his gran seems to understand him.

But then he remembers the plaque at Kirkintilloch, commemorating the young Irish migrant workers – or ‘Scotties’ – who died in a bothy fire in 1937. His interest piqued, he opens up his laptop, and begins to research the conditions in which these people lived…

…and then he’s there, amongst them, working the potato fields with Molly (Faoileann Cunningham) and her compatriots from the island of Achill. He learns about their back-breaking work, about their customs; how they’re treated as outsiders and how they long for home.

And he also learns some uncomfortable truths about his own family.

Scotties – written and conceived by Muireann Kelly and Frances Poet – is a satisfying play, fascinating in its illumination of a moment in history, and uncompromising as it draws parallels with the way migrants are still treated today. Not so much bi-lingual as trilingual (Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and English), this is a clear demonstration of how language shapes us and informs us, links us to our past and our future: it is integral to our sense of self. The scripting is clever – I don’t know any Gaelic, but I can always understand what’s happening; I don’t feel I’m missing out (although, no doubt, there is a deeper resonance for those whose mother tongue this is). Theatre Gu Leòr’s mission to bring Gaelic theatre to a diverse audience is perfectly served by Scotties: it’s accessible and engaging and makes me want to know more.

The play’s structure is effective, like high quality YA fiction brought to life on the stage. Seeing everything from the young protagonist’s point of view means that we can learn with him, and his innocence is beguiling. The music (by Laoise Kelly) is vivid and  atmospheric, taking us from the giddy delights of an impromptu ceilidh down to mournful funereal pipes.

I like the set too: the gossamer-thin gauze between past and present showing how our history never really leaves us, is always there, informing what we do.

Scotties is in Edinburgh until Saturday 29th September – and it’s well worth seeking out. After that, it’s moving on to Achill Island (5th-6th October), where – no doubt – it will have an even more profound impact.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Jumpy

29/10/16

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Jumpy is a cracker of a show, at once funny and appalling, familiar and uncomfortable. It’s an episodic tale, a series of vignettes that combine to give a frank and detailed examination of a middle-class family life.

Primarily, this is the tale of Hilary and Tilly, a  mother and daughter struggling with their relationship. Hilary (Pauline Knowles) has just turned fifty, her marriage is stale and she’s about to lose her job. She’s in the habit of pouring a glass of wine as soon as she sets foot inside her home, and she’s frustrated by the way her daughter dismisses her. Tilly (Molly Vevers) is a truculent young woman, happy when she’s with her friends and angry with Hilary. Her anger isn’t specific – Hilary has done nothing wrong – it’s more of a howl against the world, where a fifteen-year-old can’t quite be free. She’s tugging at the apron strings, but of course still needs her mum.

Make no mistake, at its core this is a comedy, and the teenage angst is played for laughs. The way Vevers tuts and scowls and contorts her body stays just the right side of parody: this is adolescence writ large – played for humour but with enough realism to keep us all on side. And while Knowles’ portrayal of Hilary is touchingly vulnerable – she really seems to ache with the difficulty of it all – it’s still funny, in a wry, sardonic way.

There’s a great supporting cast too, most notably Gail Watson as Frances, whose burlesque routine is as impressive as it is hilarious, and Richard Conlon as Roland, the spineless cad who can’t see beyond his own shallow needs. And Stephen McCole’s Mark makes an interesting counterpoint, straight man to the comedians, the solid centre at the heart of Hilary’s life.

It’s brutal in places; it’ll make you question and evaluate the relationships you have with other people, the world, with politics (and wine). But that’s all to the good. April De Angelis’s play is definitely one to see. So get yourself a ticket, and catch it while you can.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield