Spectretown, Assembly Hall, Festival Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Stoirm Òg and Cumbernauld Theatre
Elspeth Turner (writer), Matthew Lenton (director),Matt Regan (Music and Sound Design), Richard Evans (Design), Kai Fischer (Lighting Design), Rob Jones (Assistant Director), Aiyana D'Arcangelo (Producer), Susan Martin (Production Manager)
Elspeth Turner (Meg and Nan), Bridget McCann (Izzy) and Mark Wood (Dodie and Stanley)
Running time

Fine Doric voices cross the years in this world première.

Inspired by traditional North East bothy ballads and drawn from local memories, Elspeth Turner’s new play begins with farm workers, young Dodie West (Mark Wood) and his lass, Meg (Elspeth Turner). They and fellow workers move around to different farms as they are taken on as new fees at annual fairs. Dod has a gift with horses and is invited to be initiated to the secret brethren of horsemen. Under the influence of a foreman, likely a brother horseman, he joins a kirk with a controversial minister and experiences being blacklisted as a result. The tragedy that results impacts down generations.

Screens of soft plastic corrugation and skilful lighting create ghostly images in this unusual piece where Dodie and Meg’s private drama plays against their wider social circumstances and holds promise of drama within that time. Spectres continue to appear after what feels like a very abrupt time shift to the present day. Suddenly we are in an urban retail setting with a bandaged Izzy (Bridget McCann) wielding a weapon in her one good arm in an attempt to kill rats.

Turner and Wood now take on the roles of Stan and Nan respectively but the revelations that link the separate time periods take a while to be made clear so it feels like two disparate plays rather than the continuous thread that is the aim of the play. The final opening of the old kist reveals among the artefacts Izzy’s tragic past. An old tape reel whirrs out how the ranks of a secret society closed to protect one of their own while closing the heart of a guilty man, yet the link between the past and the present feels tenuous and contrived.

What carries this new play, directed by Matthew Lenton with its live music from Matt Regan, is the fiercely strong performances from the cast who each bring authentic NE voices to their doubled up roles. The real magic lies in their realism.

6th – 31st August at 1.30pm (not 12th, 17th, 24th) age recommend 14+
Following its time at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, SpectreTown will tour across Scotland, including a residency at ACT Aberdeen, and a week of special village hall performances across the North East.