Tales From The Hanging Captain

If theatre is all about holding a mirror up to ourselves, then Tales From the Hanging Captain certainly makes the grade – it's the first performance piece arising from the three-year Leith Moves project which, thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund support, aims to explore the history of the Port of Leith (officially part of Edinburgh since only 1920) and share it – through a mixture of theatrical and community arts projects – with the people who now live in the area.

Early on the show makes a very good point about the missing voices of women in history – including these histories – by deliberately casting female performers in most of the male roles

Admittedly, this first play has a somewhat rough and ready feel, not least because it is formatted as a presentation by members of the Leith Historical Reenactment Society to regulars at the (fictional) Hanging Captain pub – and there's no obvious stage to distinguish performers from audience. The 12-strong cast, incidentally belong to two of Edinburgh's most respected non-professional theatre groups – ACTive INquiry and Strange Town.

Early on the show makes a very good point about the missing voices of women in history – including these histories – by deliberately casting female performers in most of the male roles – "That's theatre, go with it!" being the response to one complainer among the cast. A cynic might suggest this was director Gavin Crichton (of ACTive Inquiry) and Associate director Steve Small (of Strange Town) making the best of some necessarily limited casting opportunities but, even if that was the case, it really works and enables some cast members – Lucy Hale, Gwen Currie and Megan Travers, to name just three – to shine.

The roughness is also partly down to the script by Crichton, Paul Hughes and dramaturg Duncan Kidd; unfortunately it lacks a clear, strong narrative linking the three "forgotten histories" that are re-enacted for our entertainment – the seven-week Dockers strike in 1913, the port's whole-hearted involvement in the 19th century whaling industry, and the brazen hanging (less than two years after the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments) of an English sea captain, partly in revenge for the alleged England-contrived failure of Scotland’s ill-conceived and near-bankrupting grasp for empire.

Still, this is only the beginning; audience members were all handed a Hanging Captain-styled beer mat, on which to write details of their own Leith stories, along with contact details for the Leith Moves project. Leith is undoubtedly a town of stories and, from this limited run, ACTive Inquiry and Strange Town appear to be the best people to share them.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Set in a fictional Leith pub, 'Tales from The Hanging Captain’ takes its audience on a voyage through time, as stories of the Dockers involvement in the whaling industry, the ‘Darrien Scheme’, and the strikes of 1913 unfold.