Conceived and directed by Wils Wilson, written by Jackie Kay and Jacqueline Clark
National Theatre of Scotland
MV Hjaltland - Holmsgarth Ferry Terminal, Lerwick
It is unsurprising that one of the most popular Shetland fiddle tunes is called 'The Leaving of Lerwick Harbour'. For people living in Shetland, the 'North Boat' occupies a very special place in their affections. The main link with the Scottish mainland is more than a mode of transport; it is the repository of the countless stories, dreams, hopes and crises that take people away from Shetland or bring them home. It is also a world in limbo, a floating home that for the twelve hour crossing brings those personal stories into contact with each other. It was therefore a perfect choice for the 'launch' of the National Theatre of Scotland in Shetland, and the performance transported the small audience groups on a stunning and very personal emotional journey.
As conceived and directed by Wils Wilson, Home Shetland was a sensory delight. Chintzy table settings in the ferry terminal with servings of home made soup and opaque artwork preceded the journey onto the boat. Personal headsets guided the visitors (a more appropriate word than audience) around the boat, the public areas, private cabins and a spectacular ending on the cavernous car deck. As written by Jackie Kay and Jacqueline Clark there was a narrative thread, especially in the glorious dialect monologues by the latter. However more rewarding was the collage of intertwining lives thrown together for a moment in time animated though words, music and a huge cast of both professional and community actors.
The finale on the industrial, brutal car deck was a dramatic triumph. Sixty suspended boiler suits with fiddle music coming from their beating hearts and surrounded by projected images of the past had the visitors engaging in a bizarre piece of movement choreographed by the natural swell of the sea.
There was one missing element. Among all the sadness and wistfulness, there was not one character experiencing the joy of coming home. While 'The Leaving of Lerwick Harbour' is a poignant tune, there is scope for a more celebratory air when one returns.
Due to ferry sailing times, Shetland launched the National Theatre of Scotland. On the basis of this production it should be the start of a long, rewarding journey.
Reviewer: John Haswell