THE National Theatre of Scotland championed Scotland’s contribution to the world through its written word yesterday with a twelve-hour celebration of spoken word, speech and song. Set within Assembly Hall on the Mound, the 19th century building and former home of the Scottish Parliament seemed an appropriate venue on the eve of such a historic decision for the people of Scotland.
ASSEMBLY HALL * * * *
Conceived and curated by NTS Associate Director Graham McLaren, around 30 of Scotland’s leading artists and writers (including the house band) took part in the third, two-and-a-half-hour session of the day. Supported by the Scottish Government, the inclusion of some well-known Yes supporters on the bill (one proudly sporting a Yes badge) might have left some within the No camp wondering if this really was a non-political event. Where was Ian Rankin, for example? Ken McLeod? James MacMillan?
In any case, it all started with a chirp, as actor Alex Norton delivered a comedic rendition of A Wee Cock Sparra. Folk musician Inge Thomson’s beautifully sweet song about our sea-birds crept up on you like an incoming tide, and Lorraine McIntosh’s reading of Mary Queen of Scots’ last letter (to her sister) prior to execution was, not to put too fine a word on it, nicely executed.
Horse McDonald sang one of her best-loved songs partly in Gaelic, but that was before Glasgow Girl activist Amal Azzudin gave a thought-provoking speech about What Makes Us Human? One of the youngest performers, Annie Lennox (not that Annie Lennox), meanwhile, gave a tremendous performance of Robert Burns’s Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation, the line “But English gold has been our bane” resonating with some in the audience.
With such a high turnover of performers, however, not everything was going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Some of the speeches were overlong, boring and alienating. And while things appeared a bit random at times, Tam Dean Burn and Julia Donaldson’s hilariously animated excerpt from The Gruffalo was, without doubt, the highlight of the third session. It allowed for some much-needed audience participation and this continued during Findlay Napier’s Hank Williams-esque song about the boozing habits of folk musicians based in Glasgow.
Given the event’s themes of compassion and identity (not to mention its title), it was somewhat ironic that Scots Makar Liz Lochhead – someone clearly passionate about Scottish culture – should deliver a poem called Listening considering she (along with McLaren and Cora Bissett who came on to belt out a number by The Proclaimers) signed a petition calling for the censorship and subsequent boycott of Israeli theatre group, Incubator’s Fringe production, The City.
Still, it would have been nice to have heard more from the house band: Karine Polwart’s faithful rendition of Michael Marra’s Like Another Rolling Stone for instance suggests this ad-hoc group might have a future together.
They ended the session with a funky arrangement of Primal Scream’s Moving On Up, which implies that whatever the outcome of the referendum, traditional Scottish culture will continue to inspire, impress and flourish.