GRIT: THE MARTYN BENNETT STORY
On January 30, 2005 Scottish musician Martyn Bennett died. He was just 33 years old. Despite his relative youth, Bennett had revolutionised Scottish traditional music, combining it with the beat driven sounds of house music and drum and bass, and melding it with folk roots musics from around the world.
The new, cross-disciplinary theatre work Grit (a co-production between three Scottish companies: Pachamama, Tramway and Comar) takes its name from the last studio album Bennett ever recorded.The show tells his story, from birth and early childhood in Newfoundland, Canada, to his return to Scotland, where he began to learn to play the bagpipes at the age of 10, and on to global artistic success and his final battle with a particularly ferocious form of cancer.
Conceived and directed by Cora Bissett (creator of the award-winning Roadkill) and written by Kieran Hurley (author of the acclaimed monodrama Beats) the production is a brilliantly coherent combination of narrative, music, dance, acrobatics and projected imagery. It stands in a Scottish tradition of multi-form, event theatre which dates back to 7:84 theatre company’s famous piece The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil in 1973, and has been revived in recent years in National Theatre of Scotland productions Black Watch and The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler.
Indeed, Sandy Grierson, the star of The Beautiful Cosmos (which ended its run only last month), takes the lead role here. Bounding around the stage in Bennett’s trademark dreadlocks, the astonishingly versatile Grierson inhabits the innovative, energetic spirit of the young musician as surely as he encapsulated the hilarious eccentricities of the elderly Cutler.
He is supported beautifully by Gerda Stevenson, in fine voice in Gaelic song as Bennett’s mother, Margaret (among other roles). Hannah Donaldson is similarly superb as the musician’s talented and anguished young wife, Kirsten.
Hurley’s script is crisp and clear, putting itself intelligently at the service of the poetry and the array of music which are at the heart of the show. Add to that the spectacle of rave scenes and trapeze performance, and you have a show which brings together the traditional and the modern in often humorous, often moving, always thrilling collision. It is difficult to imagine a more appropriate tribute to Martyn Bennett.
At Tramway, Glasgow until June 7, then at Mull Theatre, Druimfin, June 20-22. For further information, visit: corabissett.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Teleraph on June 4, 2013
© Mark Brown