City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Dear Scotland (tour B), Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 29 April 2014

Show Details
National Theatre of Scotland and National Galleries of Scotland
Joe Douglas / Catrin Evans (directors), Janice Galloway, Johnny McKnight, Linda McLean, Liz Lochhead, Nicola McCartney, Iain Heggie, Rona Munro, Rob Drummond, Stuart Hepburn, Hardeep Sigh Kohli (writers), Janice Burgos (costume designer)
Anneika Rose, Colin McCreadie, Lesley Hart, Ryan Fletcher, Tunji Kasim, Benny Young, Maureen Beattie, Sally Reid, Anne Lacey
Running time: 

‘Dear Scotland’ is the result of a collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland, involving some 20 writers and 9 actors, using the National Portrait Gallery’s collection as the starting point for a series of musings that echo Fluellean’s question in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ – ‘what ish my nation?’

The upcoming Referendum clearly prompted the development of ‘Dear Scotland’ and this is tackled head on by some of the writers, while the approaches of others are more oblique.

‘Tour B’, seen by this reviewer, began with Janice Galloway’s take on Muriel Spark, as painted by Sandy Moffat. Anneika Rose gave us a lively yet considered interpretation of Spark, unlikely, given her time and background, to be ‘Very For’ as Alasdair Gray might have it, although Rose’s admirable characterisation set us up for what lay ahead.

Which was no less than H. M. Queen, in this case in the form of Colin McCreadie, scripted by Johnny McKnight, based around Carl Court’s penetrating photograph. One of the more successful creations on this tour, McCreadie’s Elizabeth was mournful confusion held in check by an underlying self-awareness.

Equally self-aware was Lesley Hart’s Clemetina Stirling Graham, to whom Linda Maclean gave some of the best lines of the evening - Stirling Graham’s precarious existence and the stratagems required to preserve it becoming a metaphor of the fates of small nations.

Liz Lochhead’s interpretation of Robert Burns, here represented both by the frequently reproduced Alexander Nasmyth painting and the person of Ryan Fletcher, was something of a disappointment, descending at moments into polemic which even judicious culling from Lochhead’s fine poem for the Scottish Parliament failed to retrieve it. By way of defence, Burns is perhaps too complex an artist and human being to be pigeon-holed into the brief time frame of these monologues.

Nicola McCartney’s take on the impressive canvas depicting ‘James III (and VIII?) congratulating his son, Prince Henry Benedict on his elevation to Cardinal York, July 1747’ gave us a nameless beggar woman, played by Tunji Kasim, commenting bitterly but effectively on the disparities between shadow and substance, a theme that recurred in Iain Heggie’s imagining of James VI and I, despairing at being able to create a union flag that will satisfy both nationalities.

Rona Munro wrestles with the enigmatic head of Jackie Kay. The outcome, spoken by Maureen Beattie, captures something of Kay’s language but the subject remains as ultimately unknowable as the Michael Snowdon sculpture that inspired it.

Possibly the most successful piece on this tour is Rob Drummond’s contribution, in which the three subjects of Ken Currie’s ‘The Oncologists’ discuss the painting in which they appear. The only point in the evening when people eligible to vote directly speak on the subject, they and Drummond bring us closest to the issues lying beyond the immediate, and suggest that much will remain unresolved whatever the outcome.

Sally Reid’s realisation of the late comedian, Chic Murray (in this monologue literally so) felt spot on, in spite of this reviewer’s lifelong aversion to Murray’s humour. Caught in the eyes by Derek Gray’s cartoon of the original, Reid gave us Stuart Hepburn’s take on a Marmite-test personality and inadvertently or not, on the question before us. Did it work? Not on this fellow.

Finally, we descended into the bowels of the National Portrait Gallery - there is almost a Chic Murray gag in there somewhere – to be confronted by Kenny Hunter’s bust of Jimmy Reid. Hardeep Sigh Kohli has managed to get himself perhaps the best gig of the tour - few Scots, whatever their personal political stance, profess anything but respect for Reid, and Sigh Kohli’s characterisation and the wonderful Anne Lacey worked their collective charm.

Reid’s injunction of over thirty years ago to conduct ourselves ‘with responsibility, and with dignity, and with maturity’ still seem wise words for these and any other times.

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+