Act of Union inspires Barrow’s new play

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SCOTTISH history may be being retold at the Royal Lyceum through Liz Lochhead’s Mary Queen Of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off at the moment, but it’s from another chapter in the country’s past that local playwright Tim Barrow takes his inspiration for Union, a rehearsed reading, directed by Mark Thomson.

Union is inspired by a set of discoveries Barrow made when examining the backdrop to the Act of Union in 1707.

“Union is a sprawling historical epic, inspired by the characters I discovered when reading about events surrounding the Treaty of the Act of Union in 1707,” he explains.

“Previously, aside from a Corries song, I didn’t know how or why the two parliaments became one, and as I read I scribbled down thoughts that turned into ideas, which then morphed into scenes involving the colourful people of the time – the Duke of Queensberry, Queen Anne, Earl of Stair, Marlborough.

“Truth is always stranger than fiction and when I found out Daniel Defoe worked as a spy in Scotland, I had a hunch great drama could be woven out of the material.

“Scotland was going through hell, the Scottish Parliament was written out of existence, and the perception was that Scotland had been bought and sold for English gold.

“With the strong characters, historic politics and backdrop of growing Scottish Enlightenment, it felt right to coalesce the drama into a story for the stage.”

Amazed the history of the period was not better known, Barrow set to work. “The play was written from the gut, to the soundtrack of LCD Soundsystem during the summer of 2010 while I was editing the film The Space Between, which was shot in the Capital.

“Every day I viewed beautiful images of Edinburgh, but at night I stepped back 300 years to a much darker time, where hope was harder to come by.

“1707 Edinburgh was a dramatic place to live. Usual dangers of disease, hunger and poverty were heightened by threat of English invasion. A remote foreign monarchy, in competition with the ‘King over the water,’ the head of the Scottish Stuart royal family, and uncertainty over the prosperity and future of Scotland.

“Into the picture steps Allan Ramsay, historically and theatrically. The link between earlier Scots poets and Fergusson and Burns, he was a wigmaker with a passion for poetry and theatre and a love for high culture. He preceded the Scottish Enlightenment, but his playhouse in Carrubber’s Close was closed down by less enlightened souls.

“The story is tragic, so I threw in irreverent comedy to shine a clearer light on it. The characters led the way and everytime I struggled for ideas a quirk of history kicked a new scene into life.

“The greatest honour was discovering Ramsay - his zest for the city, poetry, love and life spurred me on to do our story justice.”

His play has no agenda, insists Barrow, nor is it simply a history lecture.

“I took actual events and characters and freely imagined their behaviour and conflict for the sake of drama. I believe it’s a story worth hearing, particularly now we are governed once again by a Scottish Parliament. “

Barrow’s play will be brought to life on Saturday by ex-Spooks star Shauna MacDonald and Kevin Lennon, who will play Allan Ramsay.

Union: Rehearsed reading, Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, Saturday, 2.30pm, £6, 0131-248 4848