First Look: Dear Scotland

April 28, 2014 | By More

Pictures from the NTS-National Portrait Gallery collaboration

Photos by Peter Dibdin
Words by Thom Dibdin

It is half time at the press performances of Dear Scotland, the National Theatre of Scotland’s collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery.

Dear Scotland, a National Theatre of Scotland production at the Scottish Natioanal Portait Gallery.

Maureen Beattie as Robert Louis Stevenson (bust by David Watson Stevenson). Photo © Peter Dibdin

On Saturday night, ten of the twenty portraits were visited and ten of the twenty monologues were performed, in Tour A.

The show is in two parts, and Æ’s review will run after the second half, Tour B, on Monday – but for now here are some images and a few first thoughts.

These monologues are epistles, written by contemporary Scottish writers, each imagining what a different figure in the portrait gallery might say to Scotland today, partly in the light of the referendum.

The performers of these monologues are tour guides to an imagined vision of how the past would have seen its future. Up close and personal with their audiences, they become mediators between words and images.

It is something quite special to be in an audience of 15, and witness someone as intense as Ryan Fletcher performing the Cromartie Fool’s hilarious, ribald monologue as imagined by David Greig.

Ryan Fletcher as The Cromartie Fool (Richard Waitt). Photo © Peter Dibdin

Ryan Fletcher as The Cromartie Fool (Richard Waitt). Photo © Peter Dibdin

On Monday night, the other ten monologues will be performed in a second after-hours tour of the gallery. And if it is anything like the first, it will be a fascinating, magical evening – one which invites you to engage not just with the particular paintings, but the gallery as a whole, in a quite different way.

Tunji Kasim performs a bystander in <em>James III congratulating his son, Prince Henry Benedict on the occasion of his elevation to the Cardinal York, July 1747</em> (Paolo Monaldi, Pualacci and 'Silvestri'). Photo © Peter Dibdin

Tunji Kasim performs a bystander in James III congratulating his son, Prince Henry Benedict on the occasion of his elevation to the Cardinal York, July 1747 (Paolo Monaldi, Pualacci and ‘Silvestri’). Photo © Peter Dibdin

I’m told by Peter Dibdin, my brother the photographer who was commissioned to record portraits of the performers and some of the writers, that its pace is quite different, the whole tone altered.

He’s seen both tours, photographing the performers seen on this page and snapping some of the writers. He took the fantastic portrait of Scotland’s Makar with Scotland’s Bard which is being used as the pin-up poster of the production and is at the bottom of the page. And also this brilliant snap of the Liz Lochhead watching Ryan Fletcher bring to life the words she has given to Robert Burns.

The press call for Dear Scotland - with Liz Lochhead seated, left, and Ryan Fletcher right. Photo © Peter Dibdin

The press call for Dear Scotland – with Liz Lochhead seated, left, and Ryan Fletcher right. Photo © Peter Dibdin

We were both particularly struck by the piece performed by Anneika Rose in Gallery Nine, the gallery of women who Zinnie Harris brings out of the gloom, women of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, whose achievements went beyond the sphere of influence usual for that time.

Anneika Rose with Franz Xaver Winterhalter's 1840 portrait of Queen Victoria. Photo © Peter Dibdin

Anneika Rose with Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s 1840 portrait of Queen Victoria. Photo © Peter Dibdin

Another hidden woman is found by Jo Clifford, in her monologue written for the Unnamed Woman in Alexander Moffat’s well known group portrait of late-20th century poets in Poets Pub. Here’s Peter’s portait of Jo in front of the painting. The unnamed woman is seen in red stockings, at a table on her own, to the poets’ left.

Jo Clifford in front of Aexander Moffat's Poets Pub. She wrote a monologue for the unnamed women to the left of the painting. Photo © Peter Dibdin

Jo Clifford in front of Alexander Moffat’s Poets Pub. She wrote a monologue for the unnamed woman to the left of the painting. Photo © Peter Dibdin

And here is Sally Reid, who performs the monologue – and goes far beyond the surface anger of Jo’s words to find greater depths in a new understanding to the role of the poets and puts their poetry in a whole new light.

Sally Reid as the unnamed Woman in Poets Pub. Photo © Peter Dibdin

Sally Reid as the Unnamed Woman in Alexander Moffat’s Poets Pub. Photo © Peter Dibdin

One of the delights of the piece are its contrasts. One minute, you might be listening to the coruscating tones of Mick McGahey, as imagined by Jackie Kay and brought to life by Benny Young.

600-Dear Scotland Production Image 6 Benny Young

Benny Young as Michael McGahey (Maggi Hambling) Photo © Peter Dibdin

The next, it will be the clipped, Frenchified tones of Mary Queen of Scots, given a deliberate and aloof air by Anne Lacey in an epistle from the pen of Louise Welsh.

600-Dear Scotland Production Image 5 Anne Lacey

Anne Lacey as Mary Queen of Scots (unknown artist). Photo © Peter Dibdin

I can’t wait for Monday night and the second half. So far, co-directors Joe Douglas and Catrin Evans have done a great job, giving a real dynamic to what could be quite staid and stationary. Of course they are helped by a top-drawer cast thanks to Laura Donnelly, who has certainly played a blinder in her choices of performers.

The two, ten-picture tours continue to Saturday 3 May and there are still places still left on several tours. The tours start every ten minutes and taking only 15 audience members each, so you might not get the time slot you want, but you should get the evening of your choice if you book quickly.

This is something of a unique event, so if you are able to get along, I’d recommend to grab a ticket. Details of how to do so are after this brilliant picture of our Makar with Burns looking on.

Scotland's Makar, Liz Lochhead, with Alexander's portait of Robert Burns. Photo © Peter Dibdin

Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead, with Alexander Nasmyth’s portait of Robert Burns. Photo © Peter Dibdin

Listings details

Dear Scotland
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD
Thurs 24 April – Sat 3 May 2014 (no performances on Sundays or Wednesday 30th April).
Tour times: 7.30pm, 7.40pm, 7.50pm, 8.00pm, 8.10pm, 8.20pm, 8.30pm, 8.40pm, 8.50pm, 9.00pm.
Tickets from www.hubtickets.co.uk (And on the door on the night from 7pm.)
ENDS

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