Finding glory in the tale of Prince Charlie
Scottish Youth Theatre takes its national remit very seriously. Proof of that is the page in its summer school souvenir programme that lists the participants' hometowns. It would read like a gazetteer of Scotland, except that Berlin, Harrogate and Milan have to be slipped in between Bellshill and Milnathort.
The company also makes a point this year of spreading its work around Scotland, with performances in Stirling, foundation courses in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and an advanced skills course and its core five-week production and performance course at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre.
This year's production is based on a screenplay by Stuart Paterson, adapted by the SYT's artistic director, Mary McCluskey. With the ironic title of The Glory, it tells the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie's flight from Culloden through the Highlands and islands.
Screen to stage is a journey seldom made successfully and the SYT's stagecraft is tested to the limit by the battles, the island crossings and the pursuit through the heather. Sadly, too, the laconic dialogue of the screenplay, where so much is said by the camera, can easily seem like mere pageantry in the theatre. Nevertheless, Ms McCluskey makes theatre out of the counterpoint between the refreshing truthfulness of the action and the romanticism of the production.
The Prince, given a detailed and consistent performance by Matthew Taylor, is an anti-hero whose failure to restore a Catholic monrchy to Britain trails disaster across Gaeldom. The heroic action of the play lies in the efforts of the clansmen to save a drinking, pipe-dreaming refugee who professes to like little of Scotland except the people and whisky, who continually endangers his helpers with his arrogant decision-taking and who sometimes merely annoys, as when he refuses to hear ill of the Duke of Cumberland, his cousin.
Paterson sets up the same kind of contradictions with the natural heroine of the piece, Flora MacDonald. In an assured performance, Christina Laybourn ranges from the demure to the feisty, but she accepts the army's passes from her army relative and the play ends with her being lionised by London Jacobite society. This kind of detail saves the play from Braveheart-ism, but at the expense of giving the audience a comfortable line to follow.
Ms McCluskey cleverly unwinds this unsatisfying story against a soundtrack that begins with Brigadoon-like romanticism but ends in tears. Entering the theatre, the audience are met by gaily-dressed villagers and a richly-lit setting. There is a singer (uncredited, but impressive) and peasants who dance for no obvious reason. Throughout the performance, the singing goes through the sentimental and romantic Jacobite repertoire until the close, when this painstaking company unite in an amazing set-piece of light and symmetry to sing "Will Ye No' Come Back Again" in a way that persuades you they would lynch him if he did.
The Glory is at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until August 5; His Majesty's, Aberdeen, August 8 and 9