Home, Aberdeen & Home Shetland, from the inaugural programme of the National Theatre of Scotland:
Home, Aberdeen, directed by award-winning dramatist Alison Peebles, takes not one but many angles on the project’s eponymous concept. Some, such as the less-than-welcome return of the prodigal son, are universal; others, like the lives of seafarers, are closely tied to the identity of Aberdeen itself.
It is an intelligent approach, rendered all the more effective by being played around an abandoned tenement block in the city’s neglected Middlefield district. An early moment of seeming street hassle outside the venue turns out to be a startling challenge to social prejudices, as it emerges that the feared troublemakers are characters in the piece.
As we move from flat to flat, the tales the show has to tell and the quality of the acting are of variable quality. However, both the well-considered design and the pleasingly whimsical choreography restore a sense of balance.
The conclusion of the production is superb. The deeply affecting monologue of a fisherman (played by the brilliant, gravel-voiced singer-songwriter and actor Michael Marra) whose livelihood and very identity have been destroyed by the devastation of the cod stocks, is a perfect way to bring the NTS home to Aberdeen.
In Shetland, multimedia theatre expert Wils Wilson has, in the great ferry Hjaltland, found a venue which taps directly into the lifeblood of the place. In the first of her two-part production, Wilson transforms the boat into a ghost ship, full of characters from the past and present of the islands.
As we walk through the vessel, we listen, on personal headsets, to the emotive verses of Scottish poet Jackie Kay with local musicians. The characters who flit in and out generate a profound sense of regret, the yearning and the undeniable sense of identity of a Shetland people, many of whom are dispersed around the world.
The second part of the show is nothing short of a coup de theatre. Down on the car deck, Wilson absorbs our senses with 100 fiddles playing from speakers hidden within 100 white overalls, which swing from the high ceiling. Combined with beautifully integrated old film footage and a truly moving performance, it is a wonderful denouement to a work which must be among the very best of what the National Theatre of Scotland’s inaugural project has to offer.
This review was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on 27 January 2006
© Mark Brown