3 stars The demise of the Byre Theatre as a thriving professional producing house following funding cuts after a major refurbishment was a major loss to St Andrews. With any luck, this new production of a script originally penned by John Ward may help encourage the re-establishment of a permanent artistic team at what is now primarily a receiving house.
Ward’s play was a heroic reimagining of the life and death of seventeenth century Scots wanderer, James MacPherson, who created his own mythology via the song he penned while awaiting execution. Kally Lloyd-Jones’ production of Linda Duncan McLaughlin’s adaptation was enabled by the Scottish Government-backed Year of Creative Scotland 2012’s bestowment of the Scotland’s Creative Place Award to St Andrews. Performed by a mixed cast of professionals and community participants, the production is staged in a heated tent in the grounds of Madras College, and is a romantically inclined romp that suggests a kind of proto class war at play. MacPherson here is the illegitimate son of Laird Duff’s former maid. When MacPherson falls for Bess, whose father has promised her to Duff, a backdrop of personal jealousy and Jacobite rebellion makes for an epic akin to a western. As played out on Janis Hart’s big wooden set with trees spilling into the auditorium, it’s a patchy show, but one which nevertheless highlights institutionalised misogyny and abuses of power and privilege. As MacPherson, Martin Forry grows in confidence throughout, while Morna McDonald makes for a feisty foil as Bess. By far the best thing here is the live harp and fiddle score played by young musicians from Madras. Under the guidance of Rachel Newton, it’s subtle under-scoring is a thing of quiet beauty. The Herald, November 29th 2012 ends