The Stamping Ground

May 24 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Vibrant

Festival Theatre: Tues 23 – Sat 27 May 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Stamping Ground at the Festival Theatre is unabashedly emotional and visually enthralling. Raw Material and Eden Court’s Runrig musical – which played successfully in Inverness in 2022 – is touring Scotland and will surely find appreciative audiences.

Written by Morna Young (from a concept by Alan B McLeod), and featuring over 20 of Runrig’s songs, the musical features Euan and Annie, a couple since their teenage years. They return to the Highland village where they grew up in order to escape London, after their 16-year-old daughter Fiona is attacked.

Ali Watt and Jenny Hulse Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Euan is a writer of Scottish-set historical romance, struggling to follow up his one big hit. Swelling the population of Glenbeg from 105 to 108 by moving into the spare room at Euan’s mother Mary’s croft, the family become involved in the campaign to save the village pub – something which exposes fault lines in their relationships.

Calum and Rory MacDonald’s songs, despite their stadium-rock overtones, fit well into the jukebox musical format, with the tunes having that folky insistence that makes them sound familiar on first hearing.

The jumping through narrative hoops that a book sometimes has to perform to shoehorn in the familiar numbers is notably absent here. Partly this is due to Young’s command of stagecraft; it is also because the lyrics, depending on your viewpoint, are either evocatively and emotionally impressionistic, or full of vague platitudes. Either way, it makes them easier to slot into a narrative.


That book has much more substance than is customary in the genre. Not only does it deal with real human relationships, but it touches on environmental issues, the continuing problem of land ownership in Scotland and depopulation.

Admittedly, having raised these themes, it does then shy away from confronting them, in a plot that cannot help evoking Local Hero. A story that signposts the dangers of romanticising Scotland’s past (and present) ends up in woolly and potentially troubling cliches about ‘the land, the language and the people’.

A scene from The Stamping Ground. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

However, there is no denying the production’s impact. Luke Kernaghan’s direction is vibrant and pacy, with the talented ensemble and Jade Adamson’s movement direction helping to create a constant spectacle, with the title song a particular highlight. Kenneth MacLeod’s monolithic set is well used, and Simon Wilkinson’s lighting can be romantic moonlight or full-on rock festival as the occasion demands.

The sound design of Garry Boyle is exemplary; such clarity is rarely found with chorus vocals or an electric band on stage. Huge credit is due, too, to that band (often supplemented by the other performers) and to MD John Kielty, whose arrangements are varied and sympathetic.

Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of musical elements that verge on the overwrought and over-emphatic, but there are also plenty of more reflective moments.

air of fragility

Such moments are done particular justice by Jenny Hulse as Annie and Caitlin Forbes as Fiona; there is a dynamic to their relationship that is touchingly believable. Naomi Stirrat, as the troubled Summer, also has an air of fragility that is thoroughly convincing.

Annie Grace provides real emotional depth and musicality as Mary, while Ali Watt gives Euan a measure of sympathy, although the character’s motives and actions do seem less than credible at times.

The Cast of The Stamping Ground. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

An ensemble featuring such distinguished performers as Juliet Cadzow, Barrie Hunter and Brian James O’Sullivan helps to cement the feel of a community, with moments of humour and pathos very deftly done. Hunter in particular provides a low-key, unshowy rendition of Dance Called America that shows just how cleverly the musical numbers are integrated into the production.

Not always, however – Loch Lomond is saved for an unashamedly crowd-pleasing singalong at the curtain call. This is a fitting end for a production whose emotional payoffs are not always completely earned, and which does edge into the sentimental, but is certainly striking and will leave no-one feeling short-changed.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval).
Festival Theatre, 13-29 Nicolson St, EH8 9FT
Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 May 2023
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Matinees Thurs & Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Glasgow King’s Theatre, 297 Bath St, Glasgow G2 4JN
Tue 13 – Sat 17 June 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm; Wed, Sat mats: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:Book here.


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