Monday, 30 June 2014

The Yellow on the Broom

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Three stars
This week's announcement by T in the Park that as of next year it will
shift sites from Balado to Strathallan Castle may embed Scotland's
liveliest music festival even firmer on Perthshire soil, but it is far
from the first temporary tented village to plant roots there. This is
made vividly clear in Anne Downie's dramatisation of Betsy Whyte's 1979
autobiography, which has barely been seen on Scotland's stages since it
was first produced by the appropriately nomadic Winged Horse company in
1989.

On the one hand, Downie has penned a richly evocative first-person
rites of passage of Whyte's alter-ego, Bessie, the tobacco-guzzling
brightest spark of the Townsley clan, a family of Travellers winding
their way through 1930s rural Scotland. As Betsy, her father Sandy and
her mother Maggie are forced to move from place to place, however, they
run a gauntlet of class-room snobbery and institutionalised prejudice
that looks frighteningly contemporary.

Opening with a traditional Scots chorale performed in silhouette from
the back of the stage, Durnin's production taps into a rich if barely
seen culture that bustles with the noise of life on the road. There are
shades of John Steinbeck in the play's portrayal of recession-driven
migrants, while in Karen Fishwick's vibrant and gutsy performance that
forms the show's heart, Bessie is revealed as a literary soul-mate of
Arnold Wesker's Beattie Bryant in Roots.

If this is at times undermined by cartoonish portrayals of gallus
Glasgow besoms, eccentric toffs and dubious clergymen, Durnin, Downie
and company have presented a moving and timely portrait of a community
for whom home is forever a town away.

The Herald, June 30th 2014


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