KILMARDINNY ARTS CENTRE, BEARSDEN
Review by Mark Brown
In this, the year of Scotland’s referendum on independence and Glasgow’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games, the National Theatre of Scotland (which is a mere eight years old) is under greater pressure than ever to relate to current events and, somehow, embody the nation. It is appropriate, therefore, that it should begin its 2014 programme with Rantin, a collectively-devised work of storytelling, performance, music and song which delights in its self-proclaimed “fragmentary” nature and in the impossibility of its attempt to encompass contemporary Scotland in just 90 minutes.
The show is directed by award-winning, young theatre-maker Kieran Hurley (creator of the excellent Beats), and co-devised by him, Gav Prentice, Julia Taudevin and Drew Wright. Its “fragments” take us from an elderly Scots-American flying “home”, on a one-way ticket, to a Scotland he has never visited before, through an exultant venture capitalist in Edinburgh (who has just closed a deal with Chinese clients), to one-time industrial worker Macpherson, now embittered, unemployed and alcoholic, ranting his way to yet another expulsion from his favoured pub in Fife.
These stories, sometimes narrated, sometimes performed, are interspersed with music and songs which range from traditional Scottish ballads to a modern rock music which is truly global. The piece is delivered with the charming informality of a living room ceilidh and an engaging, often bleak humour.
Anyone who feared that the NTS’s 2014 programme would simply be a patriotic celebration can rest assured. Rantin is, in many ways, an example of the pessimism of youth, a lament for an industrial Scotland which Hurley and his friends are barely old enough to remember.
It is also, and not least in its inevitably touching rendition of Robert Burns’s great love song Ae Fond Kiss, a work laced with a sentimentality which sits more comfortably in the musical than the theatrical context. Vivid though the panoply of characters are, they are sometimes reduced to one-dimensional caricatures (such as the hyper-Thatcherite venture capitalist) or, at other times, weighed down by pathos (Macpherson hallucinating on Methil pier).
The show succeeds in painting a recognisable and diverse picture of Scotland. However, there is an irony in Hurley’s observation that it is consciously carrying more stories than it can contain. So loose is the structure of this short piece that it flags palpably, and runs out of steam half-an-hour before its end.
Touring throughout Scotland until March 1. For tour details, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 3, 2014
© Mark Brown