The Captain's Collection, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Dogstar Theatre
Alison Peebles (director), Hamish MacDonald (writer), Jonny Hardie (musical director), Ali Maclaurin (designer), Andrew Wilson (lighting designer)
Matthew Zajac, Alyth MacCormack, musicians - Jonny Hardie, Ingrid Henderson
Running time

‘Translation is always a form of treachery’. Perhaps. Yet it may be an unavoidable treachery. Dogstar’s The Captain’s Collection tiptoes around the implications of this without fully addressing the issue.

Hamish MacDonald’s script takes us from the death-bed of Captain Simon Fraser of Knockie (Matthew Jazac) through his bankruptcy-inducing efforts to preserve and publish the collections of music made by his grandfather and father and known as Airs and Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles, which contains 235 tunes and remains an important reference today. Alyth McCormack plays Fraser’s faithful but critical servant, whose comments undercut his pretensions but never quite manage to cut through the contradictions inherent in his ambitious undertaking.

Caught between a love of the music he sought to preserve and a consciousness of its origins in a Jacobite past still regarded as dangerously seditious, the historical Captain Fraser omitted and rewrote to accommodate contemporary taste.

But so did Robert Burns, whose almost single-handed labours had produced The Scots Musical Museum well before Fraser launched his own collection on an already appreciative public. Likewise, items from David Herd’s song collection were also being regularly performed by a Scottish bourgeoisie, conscious that in gaining access to an expanding empire it was in danger of losing indigenous values.   

It’s possibly unfair to criticise The Captains’ Collection for failing to tackle such issues in such a comparatively short piece, but the fact they are elided over so quickly seems a great opportunity lost.

Although The Captain’s Collection is chary of coming to grips with the contradictions implicit in its subject matter, both cast and musicians Jonny Hardie and Ingrid Henderson combine to gie it lalldy. Zajac’s performance is stand-out and Alyth McCormack the perfect foil. Regrettably the company’s highly creditable efforts weren’t enough to increase this reviewer’s rating of the production.

Show times

22-23 May, 7.30pm