The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil
Dundee Rep Ensemble
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Many political dramas fade away, no longer relevant to people today. McGrath's play, partly due to being such a great piece of theatre but also sadly due to our continuing failures as a society, retains its power to move and provoke its audience.
The play has been updated to take in the changes that have happened since the play was first performed in 1973 To include a fuller account of how the oil revenue was siphoned off to the international oil companies bypassing most of Scottish people—and the US golf course tycoon isn't forgotten.
Though there's new material, the production sticks to the style of the original, with simple props and costumes, audience participation and a church hall kind of feel. A play of the people for the people.
While the play is deeply serious in its political intent, it is also welcoming, warm and comic. Audience members are invited on stage at the beginning for a short ceilidh and there is a lot of friendly interaction throughout.
Some simple use of the audience can make very serious points too, such as having the women of the audience stand up while the men stay seated to demonstrate the many Highland Clearance revolts led by highland women.
The cast sing, dance and play as well as taking on a great range of roles with just the judicious use of a sporran or shawl. Crofters, oil riggers, ministers, many different Scottish people are brought to life as well as the many villains, from Patrick Sellar to Donald Trump.
Jo Freer proves particularly chameleon from crofting woman to male SNP politician. With Billy Mack and Irene Masdougall as Factor Sellar, you thought it couldn't get much more evil, but you'd be wrong.
Lord Crask (Stephen Bangs) and Lady Phosphate (Emily Winter) with "we're the ruling class" take apart the Victorian use of the Highlands for hunting, shooting and fishing in one song. You get caught up in the catchy tune and the funny lines but its ending brings you back to the central message of the play.
As well as the loss of land, the play also deals with the loss of language, the systematic destruction of Gaelic, addressing this by having a fluent speaker Calum MacDonald in the cast, highlighting another shocking way the Highlands were homogenised like many other parts of the British Empire.
Additions to the play include an oil song by Texas Jim (Alasdair Macrae) with Billy Mack as Whitehall pathetically in the the pocket of the oil lobby. It is funny but also sickening to watch when you think of the wealth the Norwegian people have accrued from their North Sea resources.
The comedy only adds to the central message: the tragedy of the dislocation of the people from their land due to the greed of the ruling class whether dukes or oil companies. It is also far from a story just about Scotland; this is about all the people who've had their resources plundered and been forced off their land.
It's a shame it couldn't have a longer run in Edinburgh as it is already sold out, although it will be on tour and hopefully that tour will be extended.
Reviewer: Seth Ewin