HITN Profile: Right Lines Productions

1 Sep 2007 in Dance & Drama, Moray

Right Lines Productions

DAVE SMITH and EUAN MARTIN formed Right Lines Productions in 2003 in the wake of their successful collaborations for the Highland Festival

Mission Statement

RIGHT LINES aims to promote the education of the public in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the Arts and in particular all aspects of the theatre and dramatic performance.

This may seem a grand aspiration, but that’s what it says in our company Memorandum, so it must be true. In the pursuit of this we endeavour to create original, innovative productions in a variety of art forms and stage events, tours and performances which will be accessible to communities in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and beyond.

Some may construe this as more of a threat than a promise, but it is certainly an ambition and one which we have been pursuing since the company’s formation in 2003.

However, the origins of Right Lines go back to the mid-1980s when Dave Smith and Euan Martin first met up in the percussion section of the ground-breaking Aberdeen electric ceilidh band The Reel Aliens. After supporting Runrig, The Pogues and headlining over Capercaillie at the Beach Ballroom, the band casually inspired a generation of new wave Ceilidh bands before imploding during an infamous “Tartan Tourie” that made Calum Kennedy’s assault on the Highlands & Islands look like the epitome of co-ordination.

Citing musical similarities as the reason for the split, the two drummers then pursued separate career paths, wending through a variety of occupations: social worker, wagon train operative, circus hand, oil worker, ceilidh consultant and theatre designer.

In 2000, when Dave was searching for a follow-up to his successful Highland Festival commission “Hard Pressed”, a comedy about the aphrodisiac qualities of Islay cheese, Euan realised his idea for an interactive comedy ceilidh murder mystery show wasn’t so daft after all and he dusted off the draft script which had been lying in a drawer for 10 years.

All arguments over who deserved the drum solo in the Dashing White Sergeant were forgotten and the first writing collaboration resulted in “The Accidental Death of an Accordionist” which was commissioned by the Highland Festival and toured the Highlands & Islands in 2001.

Such was the popularity of ADOAA that a short re-tour quickly followed in 2002. A second commission from the Highland Festival, “The Wedding”, was equally well-received during a Highlands & Islands tour in 2002.

Thanks to a funding package from Diageo, both shows played to sell-out audiences at Glenkinchie Distillery, Pencaitland during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was after the success of these two interactive comedy shows that Euan and Dave decided to formalise the writing partnership and Right Lines Productions was incorporated in 2003, with the company also becoming a recognised charity.

A successful application to HIPF resulted in Right Lines’ first production, “Who Bares Wins”(2004), a very well-received farce inspired by the antics of the Naked Rambler.

The company had the pleasure of casting Ron Emslie and Alyth McCormack in this two-hander, eight-character show, and Mark Saunders, who had worked on Accidental Death and The Wedding, was once again in the Director’s chair. The other essential player in the team was Brian Gorman, who provided technical support and assumed the role of Production manager for this tour and indeed all other Right Lines shows to date.

The main intention behind Right Lines was to allow Euan and Dave to write lines – just that – but the long apprenticeship in do-it-yourself theatre was hard to shake off and so design, graphics, set-painting, prop-making, marketing, publicity and all administrative duties were undertaken in addition to preparing the script!

A similar approach was taken with the next project, “Watching Bluebottles” (2005), a one-man piece about a village hall-keeper on the eve of his retirement. The company had the good fortune to secure the services of Ron Emslie once again, and although the intensive rehearsal period nearly sent him into early retirement, his resilience shone through and the show toured to Highland and North-East venues in Spring and Autumn of 2005.

2005 also saw the start of Right Lines’ involvement in the Highland Quest for a new musical, sponsored by Eden Court. As a Highland theatre company, it seemed imperative to enter the competition, despite never having considered writing a musical, far less having attempted to do so.

Emboldened by a mixture of enthusiasm and naivety, Euan and Dave settled on an idea which had originally been intended for a screenplay and began developing “Whisky Kisses”. However, the prospect of a musical written jointly by an arrhythmic bodhran player and a ceilidh conga rocker was somewhat daunting, so the assistance of composer/musician Jim Bryce was quickly sought.

In brief, the various stages of the competition were negotiated and “Whisky Kisses” secured a place in the final at Ullapool in July 2006. Although not the outright winners, we received sufficient acclaim from audience, critics and judges to merit a search for ways to fund a full production of “Whisky Kisses” in the future.
 Also in 2006, Right Lines was commissioned by HIE Moray to write a play on the theme of business start-up. The result was “Illicit”, a one-woman comedy show with Jackie Goode which toured initially during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival and is now generally available for booking.

Current Production or Work-in-Progress

There is an old theatre adage that states a show is not written, but re-written, and this applies to Musicals more than any other form. The addendum that Musicals are not written, but wrought applies even more, and that is certainly the case with Whisky Kisses!

Consequently, the show is in a permanent state of on-going work-in-progress. A grant from H2007 Moray allowed the company to develop new material and workshop it in July and the same group of performers, plus James Brining and Hilary Brooks, will stage a rehearsed reading of songs and excerpts from the show in a “Musical in the Making” presentation at the DNA (Dràma Na h-Alba) festival in Inverness in October 2007.

Right Lines has also been asked to contribute two of the six 15-minute vignettes for the Inverness Big Shop project, which also takes place during the DNA festival.

Fantasy Theatre

At present, the dream show for Right Lines would be a fully-funded, full-scale production of Whisky Kisses with 8 cast members, 12-strong chorus and 10-piece band opening at the refurbished Eden Court. However, with the involvement of a suitable benefactor / investor / producer, then this fantasy may not be so far from becoming a reality… (NB: contact details below, all major financial contributions accepted).

The other major fantasy would be to tour “The Accidental Death of an Accordionist” to every village hall in Scotland, and then see “Glengirnie”, the comedy drama based on the characters from Accidental Death, secure a regular slot on TV.

Golden Moment

The opening night of “Who Bares Wins” at Invergordon was a particular highlight, as it was the inaugural production by the new company and first-night nerves were rampant. Later in the same tour, the appearance of The Naked Rambler himself at The Universal Hall, Findhorn was a triumph of the publicity drive mounted for the show.

The look on the faces of the ladies in the third row as he edged past them towards his seat will remain with us for a very long time, while the craning necks from rows four, five and six is another image not easily forgotten!

The Highland Quest was a turning point for Right Lines in that we were able to battle our way to the final and hold our own in the face of very strong international competition. The opportunity to work (albeit feverishly) for a week with professionals like James Brining and Hilary Brooks, plus our actors Alyth McCormack, Ron Emslie, Barrie Hunter and Richard Conlon and the immensely talented students from RSAMD, made it an unforgettable experience.

And Not So Golden Moment

Receiving rejection letters for funding is part and parcel of the writing process, but having Glengirnie turned down by BBC Scotland for being “too Scottish” was a particular low point!

Highland Theatre – Is There Such A Thing, and If So, What Is It?

Yes. It is exciting, vibrant, innovative work that is created north of Perth on a daily basis. It is what happens in village halls, schools, community centres, streets, forests, parks, empty shops, historic buildings and small theatres all over the Highlands & Islands. It can be bad, it can be good, it can be brilliant. That makes it the same as theatre anywhere. It is under-funded. It is over-looked. It is about to draw attention to itself with Dràma Na h-Alba in October 2007.

Contact: Right Lines Productions, Hill O’ Greenie, Alves, Forres, IV36 2RB; Tel: 01343-850699. e: info@rightlines.net

© Euan Martin and Dave Smith, 2007