Hamish Henderson: On The Radical Road

Aug 25 2018 | By More

★★★★☆    Lively commitment

Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30): Sun 12 –Mon 27 Aug 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Hamish Henderson: On the Radical Road, from Theatre Objektiv at the Storytelling Centre, is a compelling illustration of the work of the celebrated writer, folklorist and internationalist.

Scripted by Raymond Raszowski Ross from Henderson’s poems and songs, this is emphatically not a biography. There is no narrator figure, and anyone unfamiliar with the life of Henderson will learn little concrete beyond his war service.

This is probably fair enough, as Henderson’s own work has tended to be eclipsed by his involvement in the folk revival or academia, such as collecting the singing of several hugely important musicians or co-founding the School of Scottish Studies.

His poetry has also been overshadowed by his larger-than-life status as a public figure. So it is welcome to have this production composed of his own writings.

It is an impressionistic work rather than a linear piece of theatre, but skilfully constructed by Ross. Anyone with no previous knowledge of Henderson may struggle to find a way in at times, but all would find it rewarding and emotionally engaging.

Despite making no reference to Henderson’s status in the folk world, there is something of it implicit here. The production definitely owes a debt to what you could call the post-Cheviot tradition of politically-informed and defiantly Scottish political cabaret-theatre – a genre that could never have happened without the 20thcentury folk revival.


Henderson drew on folk forms in his work, using the time-honoured method of setting his words to already-existing tunes. For example, his ‘international anthem’ the Freedom Come-All-Ye (which unsurprisingly surfaces here) is sung to the pipe tune The Bloody Fields of Flanders.

Reference is made to Henderson’s disagreements with Hugh MacDiarmid, but the conflict between romantic nationalism and international fellowship that characterised much of MacDiarmid’s work is also present. That such a tension continues unresolved in so much of Scottish political discourse makes this production even more relevant.

All of these competing themes are done justice by the versatility of the performers. Poetry, solo singing and choruses and discharged with energy and dignity. If there is always a suggestion that it is all not quite finished, this does give everything an envious immediacy.

Venerable troubadour Alastair McDonald’s percussive guitar is as important to anchoring the music as his committed singing. The other participants – Isabella Jarrett, Carla Grant and Gavin Paul – add raw vitality and polish as required, their contrasting styles meshing pleasingly.

Scott Anderson’s minimal set is striking, and Ross’s direction makes good use of the acting space – although perhaps straying into areas beside and behind the audience once or twice too often. Maria Macdonald’s lighting is effective, if at times over-dramatic.

Even with few concessions made to neophytes, this vibrant piece of politically charged theatre is thoroughly accessible.

Running time 1 hour (no interval)
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30), 43-45 High St, EH1 1SR
Sunday 12 – Monday 27 August 2018
Daily at 8.00 pm.
Book tickets on the Fringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/hamish-henderson-on-the-radical-road
Company website: www.theatreobjektiv.co.uk
Facebook: @Ontheradicalroad.


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