Previously… 2015

Nov 18 2015 | By More

History? Gie it laldy!

Edinburgh’s festival of history – Previously… – takes place this week, with a concentrated burst of performances, talks and events to bring history and the past into sharp relief.

On the theatre front there is a new look at an old friend – or should that be several old friends – from comedian Phil Differ in MacBraveheart and a sparkling new script-in-hand reading from Edinburgh playwright Jen McGregor.

They are part of 40 events over five days – Wednesday 18 -Saturday 22 November 2015 – concentrated on two venues at 28 York Place and the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Burning witches

Burning witches

Jen McGregor also features in 1707: What Really Happened? – a debate on about the vote leading up to the union on Scotland with England – which also includes Tim Barrow, who wrote Union for the Lyceum last year.

Chair of the session, journalist Jackie Kemp told Æ she has a “very interesting group of people are assembled to debate this contentious period in Scottish history,” which will start with McGregor and Barrow reading the Parliament scene from Union.

Kemp adds: “The inclusion of creative theatre professionals on the panel as well as academics is intended to help to direct the focus of the debate onto the stories, personalities and dramatic moments of the period surrounding the vote.”

The debate takes place on Thursday at one this year’s main venues, 28 York Place – the function rooms of the Hotel of that name which are used as a venue by the Stand during the fringe.

MacBraveheart is low comedy and high ideas – rooted in the past of a dystopian pre-independence future, as much as an excuse for a minimalist set littered with industrial remnants and a broken toilet as anything else.

It sees Scotland’s greatest heroes, Wallace, Bruce and Burns being tempted by their inner demons to confront their outer Hebrides. Now on a mini tour, it was first seen at the fringe in 2014, just before the referendum.

Beyond belief

Jen McGregor’s main piece, Heaven Burns, is on Saturday at the Netherbow Theatre in the Scottish Storytelling Centre. A three hander, presented as a work in progress, it explores events which lead up to the death of one Christian Caddell, a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to hunt witches at the height of the witch craze of the 1660s.

McGregor told Æ that the very existence of such a woman seemed almost beyond belief.

“Knowing that Christian’s story did exist, I was able to use it as a lens through which I could examine the fears, tensions and power struggles that affect her and the other characters in her world, but which have parallels today.

“I think one of the greatest things about theatre is that it offers a means of creating and dismantling monsters. Christian might be a historical figure, but people like her, as terrifying as her, are not confined to the past.”

Confronting such demonic characters, trying to understand what motivates people to deliberately inflict suffering on others has not been without its difficulties.

“Heaven Burns has been an unsettling play to write,” she says. “It’s darker than my previous work, and I find myself wanting to apologise to the other characters for putting them in the same world as Christian.

“There were scenes I put off writing until the very end because I didn’t want to think my way through them. I’m very excited to hear it read at Previously…, especially as I’m certain the cast will make a very fine job of it, but I’m also nervous at the prospect of developing it further and spending more time sharing my head with these characters.”


1707: What Really Happened?
28 York Place, 28 York Place, EH1 3EP.
Thursday 19 November 2015. 7.45-9.45pm.
Free. Details and booking:

MacBraveheart – The OTHER Scottish Play
28 York Place, 28 York Place, EH1 3EP.
Friday 20 November 2015. 7pm
Tickets (£12/£10) and details from:

Heaven Burns
Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, EH1 1SR
Saturday 21 November 2015: 7.30pm
Tickets (£8/£6) and details from:

Previously… Website:

Jen McGregor’s blog on Heaven Burns: The Scenic Route


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