City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Dear Scotland: Tour A, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Review

By Irene Brown - Posted on 27 April 2014

Dear Scotland Production Image
Show Details
The National Theatre of Scotland in partnership with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
A L Kennedy, David Greig, Ali Smith, Zinnie Harris, Peter Arnott, Iain Finlay Macleod, Louise Welsh, Jackie Kay, Jo Clifford, James Robertson, (writers), Joe Douglas and Catrin Evans (directors) Janice Burgos (costume design), Laura Donnelly (casting), Peter Dibdin (photo)
Maureen Beattie, Ryan Fletcher, audio reading from Michael Clark, Anneika Rose, Lesley Hart, Colin McCreddie, Anne Lacey, Benny Young , Sally Reid, and Tunji Kasim
Running time: 

From artist to activist; poets to pioneer, fools to the forgotten; writers to rulers, significant figures from Scotland’s near and distant past are given imagined life through the pen and voice of some of Scotland’s leading writers and actors in this ambitious creative undertaking.

In this series of unique performances held as a promenade through the hallowed halls of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, each small group is guided through its various levels, nooks and crannies to experience what turns out to be an overall inspiring and affirming experience.

They are run at 10 minute intervals so logistics are tight and consideration is needed to allow each group to experience each performance without distraction. This works well and is testament to the direction of Joe Douglas and Catrin Evans.

The introductions of the three elements of portrait, writer and actor were not always clear enough during the tour though the subject itself becomes evident when standing before the work of art. A programme, sensibly issued at the end, would clearly be a distraction in such an intimate setting.

The ten portraits in Tour A are of Robert Louis Stevenson by David Watson Stevenson, The Cromartie Fool by Richard Waitt, Michael Clark by David Williams, all of the portraits in Gallery 9, Sir Walter Scott by Sir Henry Raeburn, James Boswell by George Willison, Mary Queen of Scots by unknown artist, Michael McGahey by Maggi Hambling, Anonymous woman in ‘Poets' Pub’ by Alexander Moffat, Robert Bontine Cunningham Grahame by Sir Jacob Epstein.

The styles vary widely from the biographical in Iain Finlay Macleod’s sad evocation of James Boswell performed by a cheeky Colin McCreddie, to the poetic and political with Jackie Kay’s Michael McGahey, played with curmudgeonly passion by Benny Young, resplendent in symbolic red socks and hankie.

The comic appears robustly in David Greig’s The Cromartie Fool delivered engagingly by Ryan Fletcher and more gently from A L Kennedy to which Maureen Beattie brings her own feminine strength. Anneika Rose gives a brilliant and arresting performance in the self- referential feminist piece from Zinnie Harris on the Gallery 9 portraits of women entitled Out of the Shadows, although some in this gallery were privileged rather than radical in themselves.

Tunji Kasim brings James Robertson’s text on radical politician and traveller, Robert Bontine Cunningham Grahame, to life with relaxed and direct openness that is a pleasure to experience. Jo Clifford’s metaphor for exclusion is well exposed by Sally Reid through Anonymous woman in ‘Poets' Pub, that is dedicated to Stella Cartwright, known as The Muse of Rose Street and Sue Innes who visualized The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Lesley Hart is tack spitting Walter Scott from Peter Arnott as he senses his dedicated tartanising being undone and Anna Lacey delivers heartbreaking salutary counsel as Louise Welsh’s French Mary, ending with her motto, “En ma fin est mon commencement.” Dancer Michael Clark’s reading of Ali Smith’s beautiful piece is both tender and touching.

The texts, though mostly written in English, have a good peppering of Scots words thrown in. They are strong and bold, intimate and brave, making comment from the past to reflect the future touching on subjects of immigration, colonialism and reflections on effects of the Union with a good helping of satire, sadness and anger thrown in.

Despite the diversity in this creative melding of past and present, the broad messages that come across in these missives are positive aspirations and ideals of openness, justice and acceptance. “Resist oppression and live and live and live…” says A L Kennedy as Robert Louis Stevenson; “Cherish your outcasts.” says Jo Clifford in Anonymous woman in ‘Poets' Pub’; “May you dance old new dances”, says Michael Clark in the words of Ali Smith.

It is fitting that the SNPG is the venue for a nation’s reflection on the big picture. While nobody knows what the dead or departed really would say, these imagined epistles to the nation from fleshed out ghosts and distant Scots that are well worth luggin in tae at this time of historical significance.

This is a promenade guided performance located throughout the 3 floors of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Alternative evenings will consist of Tour A or Tour B and tours will start at 7.30pm until 9pm.

Show times

24 April – 3 May 2014

Opening performances on Saturday 26 April (Tour A) and Monday 28 April (Tour B), at various times from 7.30pm.
No performances on Sunday 27 or Wednesday 30

Previews: £7.50/All other performances are £10/£15.

Accessible Performances: British Sign Language – Tuesday 29 April at 8pm & Thursday 1 May at 8pm. The performances are also all fully wheelchair accessible.

Tour start times: 7.30pm, 7.40pm, 7.50pm, 8.00pm, 8.10pm, 8.20pm, 8.30pm, 8.40pm, 8.50pm, 9.00pm.

Age: Recommended 12+