Ghosts of North Leith

Nov 15 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      A haunting tale

North Leith Parish Church: Tue 14 – Thurs 16 Nov 2023
Review by Tom Ralphs

Following a trial reading at Leith Festival earlier this year, the Ghosts of North Leith have been brought home in Citadel Arts Group’s production, which returns them to the church near by the cemetery where they are buried.

Inspired by seven gravestones in the North Leith Burial Ground, the play is a mixture of detailed research and creative speculation. Real stories are brought to life where historical records allow, and other lives and deaths are largely imagined – based on little more than the faded details on their gravestones.

Chelsea Grace, Deborah Whyte, Mark Kydd and Fraser Allan Hogg. Pic: Citadel Arts Group

That this is the work of seven members of the group’s playwriting workshop would not be obvious if it wasn’t stated in the programme notes. The scripts by Jim Brown, Carolyn Lincoln, John Lamb, Brian Lincoln, Hilary Spiers, Elaine Campbell and Rhona McAdam, blend seamlessly together to form a cohesive whole.

The story of Robert Nicoll, played by Fraser Allan Hogg, is used as the link between them. This makes sense, as Nicoll was a poet and journalist who spoke out about the conditions of the working class poor, during his all too short life. As the play opens, he has just been laid to rest, aged 23, and is introduced to the people he will be spending his afterlife with. He wants to find out what connects them to him, other than the fact that they are all in the same resting place.

Advised to approach his research by working backwards from the most recent death, the 12 year old Matilda Molesworth, to the earliest, Jacobite heroine Lady Anne Mackintosh, he meets five of the ghosts directly and hears the story of ‘The Three Cherubs’ from their father who died at sea.

passion and commitment

Hogg is a strong and engaging lead. The curiosity and inquisitiveness he brings to his questioning of his fellow residents is a logical follow on from the passion and commitment to social justice he displays in recounting his own story.

Cast members Grant MacIver, Deborah Whyte, Chelsea Grace and Mark Kydd, all play a range of characters, switching effortlessly as they go from lead roles in one part to supporting characters in others. The superb direction of Liz Hare ensures that all the roles are clearly defined and all of the stories are given the respect they deserve.

Mark Kydd as Angus MacIntosh and Chelsea Grace

Grace has the strongest, most fascinating leads, and brings them to vivid contrasting life. As Matilda she is the precocious 12 year old, unhappy with her latest stepmother and the unsanitary house her father has rented, while also haunted by her own ghosts and fears of what else lies in the house. As Lady Anne Mackintosh she leads an ensemble section of the play, raising troops for Bonny Prince Charlie in a performance that merges elements of Bob from Blackadder 2 with Shakespearean tropes of women impersonating men, to create a humorous but earnest character.

MacIver captures the solemnity of people such as Nicoll’s brother William, and Peter Millar, the father of the three cherubs, and also the salaciousness of the Rev Davie Williamson and immorality of John Gladstone.

Whyte has a string of supporting roles before emerging as Nelly Gladstones, the abolitionist who campaigned to end the slave trade that her husband and son profited from. The quiet dignity and steely resolve she brings to the role captures Gladstones’ moral standpoint and the position in society she was making it from.

solid portrayals

Kydd also gives a string of solid portrayals, excelling particularly as pulpit preacher Rev Dr David Johnson, commanding the stage from an altar in a section of the play that also demonstrates the strengths of Roddy Simpson’s lighting design and the staging of the play as a whole, making use of the church location and all that comes with it. Lighting states change to signal mood, shift focus on to central characters, and bring out the ghostly nature of the setting, accompanied by a sound design that never overplays any of its elements.

Nicoll’s quest to discover what he shares with all of the cemetery’s other residents ultimately feels more like a ploy to allow the stories to be told rather than revealing anything that links to a convincing unifying thread between them. However, that doesn’t prevent this from being an excellent history lesson that reclaims the lives of names on faded gravestones well beyond the three generations that, as one of them remarks, the dead are usually remembered for.

Running time: One hour and 45 minutes (including one interval)
North Leith Parish Church, 51 Madeira Street, EH6 4AU
Tue 14 – Thurs 16 Nov 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets £10, email:

Citadel Arts Group website:
Facebook page: @CitadelArtsGroup

The cast of Ghosts of North Leith: Fraser Allan Hogg, Grant MacIver, Deborah Whyte, Mark Kydd and Chelsea Grace. Pic: Citadel Arts Group


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