Ignition, which turns the stories of the people of Shetland into a two-hour theatre production, provides each audience member with a distinct experience, says Mark Brown.
What do you get if you go to the UK’s most remote island community, conduct 157 interviews with its people, and then utilise the various performance skills of its residents in a two-hour work of public theatre? That is a question which – after one has gone to Shetland and experienced Ignition, the latest show by the National Theatre of Scotland – turns out to be a little harder to answer than one might have thought.
In most theatre works the performance is, in the words of Macbeth, “the be all and the end all”. However, in the case of huge community projects such as Ignition (which takes as its starting point the complex relationship between the Shetlanders and the motor car), the show itself is merely the cherry on the cake.
Director Wils Wilson (creator of the brilliant inaugural NTS show Home Shetland in 2006) set herself the immense task of making Ignition available to everyone living on the archipelago. For two months, Lowri Evans (a remarkable actress and researcher) hitchhiked her way around the islands in the mythical character of north Shetland’s ghostly White Wife. She talked to people in cars, on buses, on ferries, in their houses and, even, in a care home for the elderly.
The stories she collected are combined with the Shetlanders’ performance skills, be they in storytelling, music-making or dancing (including a choreography drawing on the high-energy youth pastime of parkour, aka “free-running”). Fitting all of this into a two-hour show is a bit like trying to shoehorn an elephant into a Morris Minor.
In performance, Ignition provides each audience member with a distinct experience. Driven north from the village of Brae, I found myself in the back of a derelict car with a storytelling merchant seaman whose painful life experiences are akin to those of his male forebears. I met a travelling garden gnome and its gregarious owner. I heard the poetic reminiscences of older Shetlanders, and saw them juxtaposed with the raucous movement (on and around a battered Volvo) of the local parkour boys.
By the time I was back in the community hall at Brae, enjoying a community choir and a legendary Shetland tea, I couldn’t claim to have seen a truly coherent theatre work. What I had experienced, however, was the often emotive culmination of a big-hearted project which has palpably tapped a nerve in its host community.
Until March 30. Details: nationaltheatrescotland.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on March 22, 2013
© Mark Brown