HISTORIC figures of the past and present, all framed in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, are to be brought to life next week in the National Theatre of Scotland’s latest work.
It portrays the subjects of those pictures channelling a letter to Scotland in 2014, through a cast of nine actors, including Taggart star Colin McCredie, each of whom will play a different character on alternate evenings.
Dear Scotland, which opens tomorrow and runs until 3 May, will see audiences split into groups of 15 and guided through the gallery, taking in ten solo performances over 90 minutes.
“It’s like two different productions, each with ten pieces,” explains McCredie, who plays 18th-century Edinburgh diarist James Boswell and perhaps more unexpectedly the current Queen.
The 20 monologues are written by playwrights, poets, novelists and screenwriters, including locally based Jo Clifford, comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli, poet Liz Lochhead and Rona Munro.
“The writers got free reign to do whoever they wanted in the gallery, from Chic Murray to Mick McGahey, to Mary Queen of Scots,” explains the actor. “Basically, we are delivering a letter from them.”
Other portraits channelling their thoughts in this way include Robert Burns, Michael Clark, James VI and I, Jimmy Reid, Sir Walter Scott, Muriel Spark and Robert Louis Stevenson.
“Boswell talks about what he achieved when he turned his back on Scotland and embraced England, and how that back-fired on him,” says McCredie, as an example of the content of the letters.
Boswell, described as being ‘of swarthy skin, dark hair, black eyes, and plump’ is, physically, quite the opposite of the slight, fair McCredie, still best know as DC Stuart Fraser in Glenn Chandler’s long-running cop drama.
He laughs, “That’s one of the things about it. There are no costumes. It’s as if we are guides in the Gallery, being inhabited by the person in the portrait.”
Perhaps just as well, when it comes to McCredie’s second character, the Queen. “I do the wave,” he grins, “but I don’t do the voice. I was slightly worried when I was first told I’d be playing her, but it’s quite a sincere piece, quite affectionate.
“It’s about the possible loss of Scotland. The Queen is saying, ‘How do you think I feel that potentially you are going to break away.’
“It’s like the Commonwealth all over again. Another country not wanting her. She’s given 60 years to Scotland and no one has spoken to her about it. It’s quite moving.”
Dear Scotland, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street, tomorrow-3 May (not Sunday or Wednesday), from 7.30pm, £10-£15, 0131-473 2000