Drama Na H-Alba 2

23 Oct 2007 in Dance & Drama, Festival, Highland, Music

JENNIE MACFIE reports on work by Whisky Kisses, Theatre Hebrides, Forres Parkour, Plan B, Tara Arts and Volcano Theatre Company

A Few Little Drops by Volcano Theatre Company.

COLIN MARR introduced this reading of Right Lines’ Whisky Kisses (The Ironworks) as the opening event of DNA 2007 even though there were no less than three performances starting at the same time and The Big Shop began the previous night. … but hey, it’s the Highlands, and if anyone’s entitled to poetic licence, it’s Mr Marr.

A good sized crowd turned up for a performed read-through of this play, generally seen as the runner up to “The Sundowe” in last year’s Highland Quest, and there was an air of excited anticipation. Six gifted performers (Ron Emslie, Alyth McCormack, Barrie Hunter, Pamela Byrne and Richard Conlon, plus composer Jim Bryce wearing his actor’s hat) ran through most of what will eventually be the first act, starting off with a vastly truncated version of the 12-minute opening number, “Farewell to the Glens … of New York”.

The voices soared and entwined, the cast throwing themselves into the show with evident enjoyment and endearing camaraderie, and we were moved to tears and laughter by turns, completely enraptured. As Dave Smith puts it, “Any Dram Will Do” – but this was a very special dram and I long to see it finish its lengthy journey of development and become reality.

TECHNICAL problems delayed the start of Theatre Hebrides’ The Callanish Stoned (Craigmonie Centre) by half an hour, during which the disappointingly small audience successfully adopted a quasi-Hebridean attitude to passing time. Once the play began, it soon became apparent that Kevin MacNeil had fallen into the trap awaiting first-time playwrights of his media- saturated generation and written a good film script.

The numerous short scenes (17 in Act 1, 15 in Act 2, half a dozen of them in a car) created staging problems that Muriel Ann Macleod and Theatre Hebrides did not solve by stripping the set down to white cubes.

But the show successfully encapsulated what it is to be a teenager today, anywhere, skipping skilfully back and forth between funny, gripping and spooky. The cast performed with gusto ( perhaps in the very lovely Fiona Morrison’s case, just a little too much gusto), and the three young principals (David Rennie-Fitzgerald, Ruaridh Maciver and Gemma McGee) gave assured, likeable performances underpinned by Carina Macleod and David Walker’s solid support and Rod Morison’s musicianship.

Incidentally, the experience of being excluded from the best jokes left at least one member of the audience determined to learn some Gaelic this year so yes, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, your fiendish plot is working.

DEVISED over a period of weeks by Forres Parkour, a new young people’s performance company from Moray, with some choreographic assistance from capoerista Fraser Macdonald and Mellow Yellow Creative Arts’ Jeni Herbert MYCA, Rush (Ironworks) was an exhilarating experience.

From the opening strains of Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ at (very) full volume, there were twenty mostly untrained youngsters leaping and flowing off the stage and back onto it apparently spontaneously, naturally, like a troupe of exuberant young chimpanzees.

If this had been approached from a conventional drama or dance basis, the gender ratio (90% male) would have been reversed, but this came straight from the street, with triumphal, exuberant strength.

Wearing my David Hughes Dance hat I could see the next Matt Foster or three right there. Though the leads were acting physically at an astonishingly impressive level, voice is a lot harder to get right, and at times it felt a little like watching a school gymnastic class, but overall the energy was amazing, kicking off at top notch and keeping it there throughout.

Everyone involved deserves congratulations; Nick Fearne, Arts Development Officer for Moray Council and credited as Deviser/Writer watched proceedings with a look of avuncular pride, as well he might. These kids’ lives have surely been changed by the experience, not for them the hopelessness of the Buckfast road – Highland Council please note.

I skipped DNA on Friday evening to catch the incandescent closing gig of Blazin’ in Beauly but returned to the fold on Saturday night for Plan B’s Inside-Out (Merkinch Community Theatre).

The opening half of what on paper was an interestingly balanced double bill was “Re: Newal”, created and in the end performed by Louise Marshall in the new Merkinch performance space. Music created and performed by Claire Campbell accompanied mainly twirling movements punctuated by interludes verging on the twee, involving the knitting of a red scarf, in an egg-shaped wicker bower.

Supposed to convey the excitement of impending birth, the work, unlike pregnancy, turned out a bit vague and shapeless.

It was followed by “Far Horizons”, a solo self-choreographed work by Frank McConnell, dancing for his own company again and accompanied by the peerless Fraser Fifield and four very talented male musicians.

Beginning with an exuberant, frenetic fusion of Gene Kelly and stepdance, from the moment Fifield and Graeme Stephen put down their instruments, crawled across the floor to capture McConnell’s feet and removed his shoes, this work went free-forming off on a consistently interesting, skilfully performed journey.

The musicians took their cues from McConnell throughout, jazz-style, with a hint of ceilidh culture. It would be good to see this remounted in Eden Court’s new studio.

TARA Arts’ magnificent staging of The Tempest (Inverness High School) was the glowing ruby at the heart of DNA 2007, a multifaceted jewel cast away on the chilly desert waste of Inverness High School.

Six ropes hanging down around a spotlit length of carelessly piled red silk before a half circle of plyboard sheets evoking simultaneously a building site and Shakespeare’s Globe – that was all the set, transformed by the alchemy of theatre into a ship, a beach, a wood, a cell…

Under Jatinder Verma ‘s masterful hand, the last, the strangest and the most directly personal of Shakespeare’s texts was stripped down to the bare bones and restored again to resonate deeply in our world of rendition and Guantanamo Bay.

Physically and vocally supple, seamless acting by the company of six (a special mention for Robert Mountford’s Prospero/Trinculo doubling) meshed with Claudia Mayer’s achingly beautiful design and Nick Holdsworth’s imaginative lighting to create a superbly satisfying, truly spellbinding production.

WELSH company Volcano’s performance piece A Few Little Drops (Bught Park) was an intimate, thought-provoking meditation on water, expressed in a blend of surrealism, performance art, poetry, dance, theatre, and projections.

The audience was gently separated into small groups and herded in and out of spaces large and small, through a water-Wonderland of laundry, pigs, graffiti, divination, onions, marketing, the Beaufort scale, trapdoors, ladders, a captured mermaid, lumbar punctures, Scott of the Antarctic, a T’ai Chi white rabbit and more, with fractal repetitions and reprises.

Bathing morphed into water torture on the edge of a dusty pool where performers dived, splashed, and floated outdoors in Inverness in October – we shivered for them. Such a roving production could easily have sunk with all hands, but Volcano transcended the perils of the theatrical sea with courage, skill and panache – as did their audience.

© Jennie Macfie, 2007