TRON AMBASSADORS’ REVIEWS: Scotties – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Featured below is a selection of the reviews from this year’s Tron Ambassadors. I’m sure you’ll agree, the quality and insight is worthy of writers way beyond the years of these young people. Doubtless, ones to watch for the future.

The reviews that appear here are the unedited submissions by the writers. The writers range in age from 14 to 18 years of age.

Reviewer: Caitlin Scollin

Drawing from the real potato-picking Irish immigrants of 1936, Theatre Gu Leòr’s new play Scotties is innovative, shocking, and important to today’s audiences.

The lights go down as the play begins, and we see teenager Michael arguing with his Gaelic-speaking parents over a history project. He is tired, weighed down with homework, and embarrassed by his Gaelic heritage. After a visit from his grandmother, he falls asleep, drifting off just as figures in the distance begin to rise and sway. He is thrust into a field, and finds himself in 1930s Kirkintilloch. The audience are left just as clueless as him, as he wakes up in a completely different landscape, one that will mean more to him and his family than he could have ever expected.

Though I was initially thrown by the three different languages the play presented us with, by the end I forgot that I had once been worried by that. I could only understand the English properly, but I managed to understand the lines in different languages through the actors’ expressions. I found it captivating to watch, with so much to take in (through dialogue, movement, lighting, set, and music).

The play continues as Michael talks to Molly (the only character from the past that can see him, eventually revealed to be his own grandmother) and she explains their journey from Achill and introduces him to her “herd”. Michael stays with her for the rest of his time in the field, even when her friend professes his love for her and when their bothy is set on fire. I was enchanted by the magic in the story, and the melodic Gaelic chanting. The audience feel as if they are intruding, as the names of those who died in the fire are read out (named just once in the play as a mark of respect) and Molly weeps over the coffin. We watch her descend into isolation, refusing to even talk to her own daughter- Michael’s grandmother- as she raises her in Scotland too.

Scotties is a play about our relationship with the past, but it is also relevant to modern times. For example, the plaque placed to remember the Scotties in Kirkintilloch was immediately defaced in 2013, confirming tensions between Irish and Scottish communities even nowadays. It also tackles the issue of immigration all over the world. We begin to realise that it isn’t strictly an idea of the past, for people to flee one place to make better lives for themselves, and then be treated with hostility wherever they land. History does tend to repeat itself. The play makes a good point of talking about this in the very last scene.

Accompanied by a clever use of lighting and an interesting and efficient set, the cast dance and sing their way through a whirlwind hour and a half. One of the most memorable scenes is a dance where half the characters pick up instruments and half fall into a traditional dance that it was impossible not to smile at. The play is good at this, incorporating funny and lighthearted scenes in a heartbreaking and raw performance. I found myself crying towards the end, from where the pivotal fire was set to the very last scene.

Reviewer: Jennifer Wright

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing “Scotties” at the Tron Theatre. I had no idea that it was possible to not comprehend the language throughout the majority of a play, yet still be able to understand the raw emotion presented.

Muireann Kelly and Frances Poet’s jointly written play centres around the Glasgow teenager, Micheal (Ryan Hunter) and thoroughly explores and celebrates Scottish culture.  A school history project leads Micheal to slip into a dream where he can see clearly the lives of the boys who died in the Kirkintilloch tragedy just prior to the fire. He witnesses the final days of the boys who died as well as their experiences as Irish workers living in poverty during the early 1900s. However, Michael is only able to communicate with Molly (Faoileann Cunningham) who guides him through the past and shows what it means to be a migrant worker in Scotland in the 1930s.

While the challenge of working in multiple languages may seem daunting to some, the cast of ‘Scotties’ not only executed the play with utter passion and clarity but were also to convey to the audience the plot and dialogue through powerful acting where other actors would severely struggle to evoke anything other than complete confusion.  Every actor had their own unique and dynamic presence and complemented each other’s performance well. There was no weak link in ‘Scotties’ making for an incredibly enjoyable and emotional evening.

Although, it is not only the acting that should be applauded here; choreographer Jessica Kennedy must be recognised for her hauntingly beautiful movement that complimented the plot, dialogue, and music (by Laoise Kelly) perfectly. Moments that could easily have been glossed over became pivotal scenes due to the immaculate choreography.  Overall the creative team’s choices made a play that could have come off as confusing and predictable, an utter success. They managed to find the delicate balance between overdone and completely sporadic, resulting in a fascinatingly surreal play that truly mesmerised the audience.

“Scotties” is a truly spectacular play which explores a part of Scottish history that is not nearly talked about enough, presenting themes that are still prevalent in today’s society. This incredible show will not be soon forgotten, nor, hopefully, will the messages conveyed throughout.

Reviewer: Lucy Robinson

Scotties, by Muireann Kelly and Frances Poet, follows the story of a young boy, Michael, living in modern-day Glasgow, and his journey to rediscovering his Irish roots through his investigation of a historic fire that killed ten boys in a Scottish bothy.

Spoken in an at first confusing, but generally effective combination of Gaelic and English, it explores the background of both Irish and Scottish languages to produce a very thought-provoking piece. It cleverly drew parallels between past and present immigration, and the tension it creates within communities, which helped to make the themes much more accessible to any audience.

The set’s drab browns and greys, echoing the dreary landscape of agricultural Scotland between the wars, was offset by lighting, designed by Simon Wilkinson, that managed to transform each scene to fit the atmosphere.

Accompanied by traditional folk music that although will tug at the heartstrings of any patriotic Scot, is often haunting and eerie. Each cast member is both an actor and musician, with a particularly good piping performance from Alana MacInnes, and Ryan Hunter’s promising debut as Michael.

Reviewer: Molly Knox

Theatre Guleòr’s latest production ‘Scotties’ is a beautiful triumph that balances a tender and flowing physicality and dialogue with witty, refreshing and funny characters. The piece was inspired by a telegram, sent from Ireland following the death of ten young men from Achill in a Bothy fire in Kirkintilloch and explores not only this untold tragedy but so many valuable issues that relate heavily to today’s world.

When you first take a seat before the show begins, you are sat face to face with a stunning set (that is used throughout the show as a means of delicate and elaborate story-telling) covered in soil, a number of theatre gauzes and a simplistic set of wood furniture; these features being a bleak yet humble reminder of life’s cycle, that we all return to the earth we abide on. I particularly appreciated the use of contrast in the lighting used as it conjured up not only feelings of joy and nostalgia, but of hauntingly elegant grief. The use of live music was also very charming; the traditional Scottish and Irish instruments like fiddles, pipes and accordions made my experience all the more raw in both the light-hearted and solemn moments of the play.

Ryan Hunter’s charismatic, tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Michael, a teenage boy from modern day Glasgow, added a sense of down-to-earth comedic relief that balanced very well with the gritty, fragile aspects of the stirring plot and emotive characters. Every single actor clearly gave their all to the performance and created many moments of powerful, hard-hitting theatre. In particular, one scene between Faoileann Cunningham (playing Molly) and Colin Campbell, where both actors gave breath-taking and heart-breaking performances.

Whilst watching ‘Scotties’ I couldn’t help but notice the important issues and themes woven into the roots of the play itself- be they political or a lesson in human kindness, ‘Scotties’ had me questioning things. From the way we treat and view immigrants, to intergenerational and family relationships, to grief and loss and even the role of identity in one’s life.

Additionally, I found the use of both Scottish and Irish dialect and language alongside English to be especially effective in adding realism to the piece, and as somebody who doesn’t speak a word of Gaelic, ‘Scotties’ was completely accessible and understandable! The incorporation of more than one language into the dialogue is something uniquely brilliant to ‘Scotties’ and Theatre Guleòr’s work as a whole. The writers, Muireann Kelly and Frances Poet had clearly put an immense amount of thought into everything; from combining English and Gaelic into the production in a coherent way for both Gaelic and non-Gaelic speakers, to having a good balance of light and shade all through the piece.

Overall, after leaving the theatre from seeing ‘Scotties’ I felt refreshed by every detail of the production.  So, if you’re looking for an inspiring piece of theatre full to burst with witty perspectives and commentary on the new and old, met with a moving story that brings to light a tragedy that had been long forgotten- then I suggest you book tickets to see Theatre Guleòr’s ‘Scotties’!

For more information on the Tron Ambassadors programme visit: https://www.tron.co.uk/education/tron_ambassadors/