Monday, August 22, 2016

A night with Theatre Alba. A night in the Secret Commonwealth...


It was 1982, I think.

Soon after I’d become a theatre reviewer.

The Scotsman had sent me off to a disused dance hall in Abbeyhill.

Sent me to an unknown venue to see an unknown play by an unknown author performed by an unknown theatre company.

I hadn't become a reviewer because I knew anything about theatre: I had become a reviewer because I knew so little.

I needed to learn.

And the lessons the play taught me have stayed with me ever since.

The play was “The Shepherd Beguiled” by Netta Blair Reid and the company was Theatre Alba.

The play tells the story of a 17th century minister in the Church Of Scotland in Aberfoyle, the Reverend Robert Kirk, whose grief at the loss of his wife opens him up to the existence of the supernatural world.

He wrote a book about it, “The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies”, an extraordinary and beautiful book I’ve read in the National Library of Scotland. 

Reid made it the subject of her extraordinary play. It is a profoundly poetic exploration of grief, and a magical evocation of an unacknowledged spiritual world.

It helped me understand that it is possible, and  necessary, to write poetic plays in present-day Scotland. I remember walking up the long hill of London Road late that night in a state of exaltation and rapture. I loved it then and I love it still.

So it was profoundly moving to see the play again last night, 34 years later, performed by the same company, directed by the same director, and even with several members of the same cast. And all to the same beautiful and evocative music.

For Charles Nowolskielski, the director, inspires an extraordinary degree of love and of loyalty from his company.

I have worked for them myself and coming back to them last night was like coming back to a family.

Each festival they perform in the magical garden of Duddingston Kirk, beside the waters of the loch, and under the shadow of Arthur’s Seat.

It's a hard place to find, well off the map and completely off the critical radar.

You risk getting cold, you risk getting wet, and you almost certainly will be eaten by the midges.

But you will see something unique and important, work that no other company in Scotland is able, or even trying, to achieve.


See it in a magical place. Where magical things happen…

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