Scotties

"Best leave history in the history books—get on with living." That's what Glasgow teenager Michael (Ryan Hunter) is told by his well-to-do grandmother Grace (Anne Kidd), in Scotties. She's that rare animal: an active senior citizen who (against stereotypes) never reminisces about the past. He's a youngster with a poor opinion of the Gaelic language his parents Aonghas and Morag (Stephen McCole and Mairi Morrison) have tried to pass on to him.

Just as layered is the script, which features three languages (Irish and Scottish Gaelic, as well as English).

Both, according to this new play by Muireann Kelly and Frances Poet, are attitudes to life with real, negative consequences for their own mental health and sense of self; indeed, we're shown how Grace's difficult emotional relationship with her daughter Morag pretty well proves the philosopher George Santayana's famous belief that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". In the course of this 90 minute, one-act play, however, Michael does more than simply remember the past; while working on a school history project, he seemingly slips back the best part of one hundred years to live in it.

He finds himself among a group of Irish potato pickers, working in and around the west of Scotland: being economic migrants, and Catholic among Protestants, they're viewed with hostility. This is where Kelly and Poet most risk rendering us insensible with their "subtlety", as they underscore, highlight, embolden and italicise the parallels between today's Brexit-dyed hostility to foreign workers (especially those looking and sounding different from us) to how Scotland reacted to the deaths, in 1937, of 10 Irish potato-pickers in a bothy fire. In contrast, the use of dreams to explain the time travel feels subtly done.

Kelly, who also directs, plays with a variety of theatrical forms within a space where Simon Wilkinson's nuanced lighting can easily transform Charlotte Lane's apparently solid set into a ghostly, layered glimpse of the past. Just as layered is the script, which features three languages (Irish and Scottish Gaelic, as well as English) with the audience expected to work out what's going on from whatever dialogue they can understand. (Which, honestly, is easy enough to do, if you pay attention.) Arguably, this relatively "realistic" approach to Scotland's different languages is the most refreshing aspect of this particular time travel story.

A grounded-ensemble cast do well in their various roles (doubling up when they have to) but special mention must go to Hunter, who imbues Michael's cheeky-teenager with more pathos than you might expect, and relatively professional newcomer Faoileann Cunningham, who excels as Molly, the lone survivor of an all-too-human tragedy which Scotland appears to have forgotten about quite deliberately. If nothing else, this play successfully resurrects its memory, for both its characters and audience.

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn

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★★★★
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★★★★★
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★★★★
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★★

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The Blurb

"Beir abhaile ar march / Send home our dead." A telegram from Ireland in 1937 inspires the untold story of ten young lads from Achill lost in a Scottish bothy fire. The effects reach across the sea, waking the soul of a young Glasgow boy today struggling to find his voice. A powerful new play celebrating the music and languages of Scotland and Ireland.

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