Most theatre audiences have an anonymous – some might even suggest voyeuristic – role, viewing the action on stage from the safety of a darkened auditorium. Not so with this latest touring production by Moray-based Right Lines Productions. The lights never go down, and the audience is very much a part of the action. Indeed, if you’re sitting in the front row, there’s a good chance you’ll be taking part!
During the course of the show the dialogue touches on global warming, re-wilding policies, the development of renewable energy sources and the need for flood alleviation schemes
Despite having walked (on the occasion of this review) into an upstairs space at the Brunton theatre in Musselburgh, I and the rest of the audience suddenly become Boganlochan villagers sheltering in the local Village Hall – designated the local Emergency Rest Centre – from rising flood-water. The man nominally in charge is Eric (a suitably morose Ross Allan), an assistant grass cutter (seasonal) employed by the local council. It’s clear he’s not particularly keen on the responsibilities that fate (or “the Cooncil”) has placed on his shoulders; he’d much rather be at his dinner-date with Flora (an energetic Romana Abercromby), who runs local canoeing business “Go with the Flo”.
However, with the Riverside Restaurant now effectively on the river bed, his job is to keep everyone safe and well, a clear challenge given the shortage of clean drinking water in the hall and the obvious limits of the DIY soup-making kit dropped down by a privatised Air Sea Rescue helicopter. So it’s up to retired (though hardly retiring) volunteers Gloria and Albert (two audience-engaging performances from Estrid Barton and James Bryce) to keep everyone’s spirits up – as well as helping Eric find the confidence to propose marriage to Flo.
With the help of some audience-members, mail is received, food distributed and jumble-filled sandbags passed in a chain from one end of the hall to the other. A few attempted sing-alongs – including “The Muckle Spate of ’63” – add to the fun, as well as being a welcome distraction from Albert's impromptu lecture (number 17 in an ongoing series) about protecting water aquifers beneath the Sahara.
Notwithstanding several overlapping romantic liaisons (plus the rivalry between Eric and self-consciously macho global traveller Connal, played by David Rankine), environmental issues are at Rapid Departure's heart. During the course of the show the dialogue touches on global warming, re-wilding policies, the development of renewable energy sources and the need for flood alleviation schemes (rather than just defence barriers which merely shift flooding problem elsewhere). It's a tad overtly educational on occasions; yet, equally, there's arguably no more more effective a demonstration of the consequences of increased flood waters than seeing cast and audience members play a game of musical chairs in which only the chairs are removed.
All in all, this is an energetic, entertaining and thought-provoking story that never forgets where its dramatic heart should be.