The Yellow on the Broom, Pitlochry Festival Theatre
This is not only the year of Scotland’s historic independence referendum and Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games, it is also the second year of Homecoming Scotland, an initiative that’s intended to entice people from Scotland’s vast diaspora to visit the land of their ancestors.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre is doing its bit for Homecoming 2014 by running a programme comprised entirely of Scottish work. This includes The Yellow on the Broom, Anne Downie’s stage adaptation of Betsy Whyte’s memoirs about the lives of travelling people in Scotland in the Thirties.
It’s ironic that Downie’s play is part of “Homecoming”, given that the drama’s travelling family (the Townsleys, a fictionalisation of Whyte’s own clan), are rarely allowed to feel at home anywhere. Whether they are berry picking in Perthshire or pearl fishing on Speyside, young Bessie Townsley and her kinsfolk are never far away from a false accusation or a police notice to quit the land they have only recently arrived on.
Vexation over the rights of travelling communities remains a topical subject, of course, but PFT artistic director John Durnin’s sometimes cumbersomely-designed production stays rooted firmly in the Thirties. In particular, there’s a strong sense of tradition in the show’s live music and many songs of work and travel (even if, not for the first time at PFT this season, the singing tends to sound better in chorus than solo).
Nevertheless, there are strong performances across the board, not least from Karen Fishwick, who is endearingly feisty as Bessie, railing against the injustices she and her people face as surely as she excels academically, against the odds. PFT stalwart Dougal Lee does a lovely comic turn as the eccentric aristocrat (and self-styled Jacobite, complete with broadsword), Cameron of Pittendreich; a caricature which is far more effective than the play’s gaggle of bawdy Glasgow women.
The Yellow on the Broom proves yet again that the episodic novel is very distinct from, and difficult to translate to, the theatre. Downie keeps Bessie’s moments of narration to a minimum, but the production often lacks pace and, at two hours and 35 minutes (including interval), it ultimately outstays its welcome – something the Townsleys are often made to feel.
Until October 15: pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Teleraph on June 20, 2013
© Mark Brown