Stage reinvention of Kidnapped shakes up idea of a night at the theatre – Brian Ferguson

I’m not sure where the idea came from, but a career in the performing arts was one of the few appealing options when I was in my final year of school.
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It seemed as unrealistic as journalism, with neither helped by the fact that the opportunities to take part in a school show or write for an in-house newspaper were non-starters due to the long-running industrial action by teachers in the 1980s.

After managing to get my foot in the door of journalism as a newspaper copyboy, I was well into my 20s before I ventured into the world of Scottish theatre for the first time – with The Arches in Glasgow giving me my first true taste of an art form which has provided many of my most memorable experiences at live events.

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I was reminded of one at V&A Dundee the other day as I explored its latest exhibition on the history and evolution of tartan.

The National Theatre of Scotland's production of Kidnapped is currently touring across Scotland  (Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic)The National Theatre of Scotland's production of Kidnapped is currently touring across Scotland  (Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic)
The National Theatre of Scotland's production of Kidnapped is currently touring across Scotland (Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic)

Among the many highlights was a chance to relive Black Watch, Gregory Burke’s groundbreaking National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) play depicting the experience of soldiers in the famous regiment during the Iraq War and recalling its own history dating back to the 18th century.

Burke and director John Tiffany reunited earlier this year to visit Dundee’s Morgan Academy for a question-and-answer session with pupils about the making of the show, with highlights from the talk shown alongside a clip from the original production.

Theatre, film and television were just one of the fascinating threads weaved through the exhibition, which by intriguing coincidence opened just as NTS was launching a brand new production which could easily be seen as a close relative of V&A Dundee’s show. I had a final whirl around the exhibition before hitting the road to Greenock for the premiere of Kidnapped, a reinvention of Robert Louis Stevenson’s late 19th-century book, one of many Scottish classics which was inexplicably missing from the school curriculum I endured.

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The new NTS production – and its launch party – was draped in as much tartan as V&A Dundee’s exhibition was. But what was notable about the new stage show was how much it shook up the very idea of a night at the theatre. Anyone who has experienced writer Isobel McArthur’s Olivier Award-winning take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice over the last five years will have an inkling of what to expect with Kidnapped.

Ryan J Mackay and Malcolm Cumming star in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Kidnapped (Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic)Ryan J Mackay and Malcolm Cumming star in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Kidnapped (Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic)
Ryan J Mackay and Malcolm Cumming star in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Kidnapped (Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic)

Her previous show’s winning combination of a classic story with contemporary music and comedy has been taken to another level with Kidnapped, which is currently touring across Scotland. The laughs came so thick and fast from the stage that I thought I was watching panto at times, while the performers had to be equally adept at turning their hand to covering country, pop and Scottish rock anthems.

My overriding impression emerging from the show was of seeing a love story unfold, thanks to McArthur’s bold move to expand the core relationship in the novel. As well as honouring Stevenson’s original book, Kidnapped also seemed to honour Scotland’s long history of theatre, variety, music and comedy performance on stage.

I’m convinced it can only help inspire some of the current generation of school pupils in Scotland if they get the chance to see it unfold before their eyes.