Euan Martin

9 Aug 2008 in Dance & Drama

A Fringe Double

EUAN MARTIN and Northings’ cartoonist DAVE SMITH have two shows running at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, which may be a first for a Highland Theatre company.

Accidental Death of an Accordionist, a co-production with Mull Theatre that is currently on a nine-week tour, is at the Acoustic Music centre, while the final year of the RSAMD will present Whisky Kisses at the George Square Theatre.

With Dogstar’s new production of Matthew Zajac’s The Tailor of Inverness also running at Assembly, and Plan B’s new dance-theatre piece Parallel / Parallels at Dancebase, Highland companies are well-represented this year. Two shows in one year may well be a first, though.

NORTHINGS: Euan, we reckon this might be the first time that a Highland-based company has had two shows in the Fringe?

EUAN MARTIN: That was my thinking as well. I don’t know of it having happened before, and nobody has come forward to say oh, aye, we did that. If it isn’t a first – and I think it might be – it is certainly a rarity.

N: Let’s start with Accidental Death of an Accordionist, a big hit when it was first produced at the Highland Festival in 2001. How did that show come about?

EM: The real background to it is that I had written a draft of a show many years before then, back in the late 80s, and put it in the bottom drawer for ten years. It was when Dave Smith was looking to do a follow-up to his Highland Festival commission of 2000, Hard Pressed, that I nervously pushed the script in his direction. He was taken with it and we put it to the Highland Festival, and Alastair McDonald commissioned it for 2001. We worked on it together, and that was our first writing collaboration.

It’s been tightened up, but it was very much a case of if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it

N: You were not Right Lines at that point, though?

EM: No, but it came out of that. The show did very well, and we were buoyed up by that success and fortunate enough to get a commission from the Highland Festival for The Wedding the following year. We decided that we were enjoying working together, and decided at that stage to form our own company and try and do things under our own steam.

N: And how did the revival come about as a joint production with Mull Theatre?

EM: It is amazing how these things fall into place. I was down at the HITN annual away weekend last year at Pitlochry, which is my home town as it happens. As luck would have it Alasdair McCrone was sitting next to me at the dinner. We had never actually met, but obviously I knew a fair bit about him, and we hit it off and had a good crack. We talked about the various plans each company had, and went away home.

Nothing had been discussed between us at that point, but Dave and I had been trying to put together a tour for Accordionist, and had sent out a note of interest to promoters around the Highlands. We had lots of favourable responses, and were putting together a funding application to the Scottish Arts Council.

But when I got home I had a burst of inspiration and thought well, why don’t we do it in collaboration with Mull? The idea of two Highland companies coming together to work on a project really appealed to me, and I thought it might also appeal to the Arts Council, and to cut a long story short, I spoke to Alasdair and he said it would really fit in with their own plans, and we could rehearse it at the new production centre at Dervaig, which was scheduled to be finished by now.

We rattled together an application in about a week and fired it off to the SAC with all these notes of interest from venues. We had also had discussions with John Barrow from Stoneyport. I had always seen Accordionist as a fringe possibility, and reckoned that The Acoustic Music Centre would be the perfect venue for it, and John had offered us a late night slot right through the festival.

So that was all coming together very nicely, and the SAC agreed and gave us the full touring and production grant to do the show. To be honest, we had so many offers from promoters that we could have sold another five or six weeks on top of the nine that we are doing, but we felt we had to show the actors some mercy.

N: How many of the original cast did you try to re-assemble?

EM: We had originally hoped to have five of them back for this tour, but a couple of them had to drop out, leaving Sandy Brechin, Annie Grace and Brian Smith from the original cast.

N: Have you done much to it?

EM: It’s been tightened up, but it was very much a case of if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. The show was a bit haphazard at times the first time round – we were relatively inexperienced, although that was also part of its charm, and it is built into the story to some extent. What we have done this time is taken a good look at how we can tighten it up. We have changed some dialogue, and we have also had to cut it slightly for the Fringe due to the time slot we have, but it is basically the same show. It still has the missing band, and the actual dancing, and the power cut, and the raffle and the séance and the puppet show.

We have done a wee limited edition CD of music to accompany the show, which Sandy has released on his Brechin All Records. It has some music and songs from the show, plus some additional material to recreate the atmosphere of a genuine Tour-a-Rural Ceilidh Band gig!

The musicians include Sandy Brechin and Annie Grace, plus guest artist and multi-instrumentalist Aly Macrae and the Macrazy Vaudeville Orchestra. It’s a bit of fun and a nice souvenir of the show.

N: Okay, that takes us on to Whisky Kisses, which is now getting its first full production at the Fringe.

EM: Well, you know the history of the Highland Quest. It was our entry for that, and made it to the final. Since then there has been various bits of interest in it, and we got some funding to run some development workshops last year, and we had a rehearsed reading of the first act at Dràma Na h-Alba in October.

We did a wee bit of it at the Gala closing event for Highland 2007 at Eden Court in January, and one of the actors, Barrie Hunter – who is in Accordionist this time – was subsequently in the pub in Glasgow when he ran into Andrew Panton, who directs the musical theatre course at the RSAMD.

The RSAMD had been very involved in Highland Quest, of course, and Barry was telling him that he had been up in Inverness doing a wee bit from Whisky Kisses. Andrew then said they were looking for another show to take to the Fringe this year, and he phoned me up and asked if we were interested in doing a workshop with the students in Glasgow. They like to do new writing.

We jumped at the chance, and went down on the understanding that this was just a wee trial to see how it went. They invited us down for a week in February, and we started by doing a read-through with the students, and at the end of that they were saying oh yes, this will go down really well in Edinburgh, so it seemed to be a foregone conclusion! It all went very well, and was selected as one of the four pieces they are doing this year.

N: What form will it take?

EM: We have had to make a few cuts for this version. We had built it up into a full-scale musical, but we have a 90-minute slot at the Fringe, so we have to tailor it for that.

Chris Grady, who used to work with Cameron Macintosh but left after Highland Quest, is involved in an organisation called Musical Theatre Matters, and has put together a kind of mini-festival at the George Theatre in Edinburgh for three weeks of musical theatre, with shows and seminars and all kinds of things. We are in the main George Square Theatre, which holds about 480, which is much bigger than the venue the RSAMD have previously used in Edinburgh. So that is all very exciting.

N: And is it entirely a student production?

EM: Yes, it is a student cast, and they will all be graduates by the end of the festival, so it’s a showcase for them. We need to see how that goes and how it is received. I’m sure they will do it very well, but they are not age-appropriate for the roles and so on, and we are still aiming at raising funds to do a full production next year.

N: Thanks, Euan, and good luck with both shows.

© Kenny Mathieson, 2008