When Mountains Meet

Apr 27 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆     Joyfully moving

The Studio: Thu 25– Fri 26 Apr 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

When Mountains Meet is the best kind of touring theatre – approachable, intelligent, melodic and utterly entertaining.

The production tells the true story of Anne Wood, a musician who set out in the 1990s to find her father, a Pakistani doctor she had never met. While making contact her father proves easier than anticipated, a visit to Pakistan does not necessarily go smoothly. Her father is welcoming, but having ‘an illegitimate foreign musician daughter’ is socially unacceptable.

Anne Wood. Pic: Robin Mitchell

Wood is a musician who composes and plays in a dizzying variety of styles, yet could not be said to be that well known. A member in recent years of influential post-punk band (and favourite of Kurt Cobain) The Raincoats, she is the band’s only member not to have their own Wikipedia page. Which is not an exact science but is nevertheless an indicator of a certain level of notoriety (or instinct for self-promotion).

Yet Wood’s career deserves celebration, including rock, folk, classical and everything in between, going back to the 1990s genre-hopping Cauld Blast Orchestra – who themselves grew out of the Communicado production Jock Tamson’s Bairns. This is a useful comparison for a production firmly in the tradition of personally aware, politically informed theatre with music, which became established in Scotland after The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil.

thoroughly accessible

While ‘gig theatre’ is not always a helpful description, it does help to steer expectations away from what is usually expected from ‘musical theatre’. This is an excellent example of the best of the former genre – raw, alive and thoroughly accessible, driven by the presence of live musicians.

Kath Burlinson (who also co-directs with dramaturg Niloo-Far Khan) has written the script, with Wood providing the music. This is played by Wood (violin and sarangi), Rakae Jamil (sitar and vocals), Mary Macmaster (electro-harp and vocals) and Rick Wilson (percussion).

Mary Macmaster, Anne Wood, Rick Wilson and Rakae Jamil. Pic: Robin Mitchell

The similarities between the Highland and South Asian traditions – the presence of drones, the vocal imitations of instrumental music, the use of a melodic framework for improvisation – may be purely coincidental, but lend themselves to a cross-cultural collision far more fruitful than most such efforts.

And it has to be said that the music is tremendous, with emotional melodies and stomping dance tunes that are respectful of both cultures. The music is not the only thing that contributes to a party atmosphere; set out in cabaret-style with tables, the acting area is extremely versatile. Ali Maclaurin’s design of the space is an integral part of the production, with the audience feeling a part of the action (as well as partaking in kahwa tea and ladoo, and in making paper planes).

vibrant atmosphere

The performers involved in the telling of the story also contribute to the vibrant atmosphere. Iman Akhtar plays the younger Anne, Jamie Zubairi her father and Hassan Javed her half-brother, but all three move seamlessly between other roles and engaging with (and wandering through) the audience.

Aqsa Arif’s digital design combines with Maclaurin’s stage design to great effect – the projections, like the understated puppetry, are never gimmicky. Louise Gregory’s lighting is a little more obtrusive but always thoroughly effective.

Iman Akhtar, Jamie Zubairi and Hassan Javed. Pic: Robin Mitchell

Burlinson’s script is notable for its lucid nature. Observations on politics, such as when it touches on the effects of colonialism and Partition, are done without fuss in a narrative that is never dry. The suggested guideline of 8+ seems about right for a production that is not aimed at children but will have a wide appeal to all ages.

There are some things that are not quite as successful. The (rare) English lyrics to songs are somewhat unimaginative; the geology metaphor encased in the title, so effective at first, is maybe overused.

Overall, however, the production is a roaring success, full of vigour, colour and music.

Running time 1 hour 10 minutes (no interval)
The Studio, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL
Thursday 25 and Friday 26 April 2024
Evening: 7.30pm
Run at The Studio ended

When Mountains Meet on tour

Mareel​, Gutters Gaet, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0WQ
Tuesday 30 April
Evening: 7.30pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.

The Lemon Tree (Rise Up Festival) 5 W N St, Aberdeen AB24 5AT
Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 May
Sat: 6.30pm, Sun: 2.30pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.

MacPhail Centre (Ulluminate) 5 Mill St, Ullapool IV26 2UN
Friday 10 and Saturday 11 May
Fri: 2pm; Sat: 7pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.
Box office: 01854 613336

The Albert Halls, Dumbarton Road, Stirling, FK8 2QL
Wednesday 15 May
Evening: 7pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.
Box office: 01786 473544

Strathearn Arts 6 Comrie St, Crieff PH7 4AX
Friday 17 May
Evening: 7.30pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.
Box office: 01764 655556

Cottiers 93-95 Hyndland St, Glasgow G11 5PU
Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 May
Evening: 7.30pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.
Box office: 0141 357 5825

Castle Douglas Town Hall 5 St Andrew Street, Castle Douglas, DG7 1DE.
Saturday 25 May
Evening: 7.30pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.
Box office: 030 33 33 3000

Melrose Corn Exchange Market Square, Melrose TD6 9PN
Tuesday 28 May
Evening: 7.30pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.
Box office: 01896 822463

Paisley Arts Centre 15 New St, Paisley PA1 1EZ
Friday 31 May
Evening: 7.30pm.
Tickets and Details: Book here.
Box office: 0300 300 0250

Hassan Javed, Iman Akhtar and Jamie Zubairi (seated) with Mary Macmaster, Anne Wood, Rick Wilson and Rakae Jamil. Pic: Robin Mitchell


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