8 August 2010

Dramatic Darien Scheme scheme...

I've previously discussed the unaccountable Teutonic fixation which dominated my historical education in secondary school and the almost total dearth of Scottish material on the curriculum. My attempts at autodidacticism despite, I remain embarrassingly ignorant of great swathes of Scotland's history. Concerningly, I'm sure that my illiteracy is quite well companioned, even general, amongst my fellow Scots.

As some of you may well have deduced from my occasional reference, I'm also very fond of the theatre, though life's hurly-burly and my own want of foresight prevents me from going as often as I'd like. When not dashing off jeremiads here or putting more professional pen to paper and thumb to key, attempting to write plays is a bit of a cathartic hobby of mine. At the moment, I'm warming most  of all to a historical theatre. As my profile picture might suggest, I find poncy cauliflower wigs and fancy frock coats irresistibly appealing. At least insofar as the dramas they attach to aren't prissy Austenesque affairs.  Being furth of Scotland will prevent me from attending a show which happily marries all of these themes.  By way of compensation, I thought I'd highlight it here. In Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (1987), Liz Lochhead demonstrated how vital and expressive inventively staged histories can prove.

Hopefully, the National Theatre of Scotland will soon furnish us with a  more contemporary example of how it is done. As part of the Edinburgh International Festival, the National Theatre of Scotland will be performing Alistair Beaton's new play Caledonia. At the spine of Beaton's drama is the infamous (or perhaps more accurately unfamous, if my best guesses about Scots historical education are correct) Darien Scheme of the late 17th Century. In Beaton's words:

"The play is an exploration of Scotland's futile attempt at establishing a colony in Panama which saw ships set sail from Leith in 1698.  The mission ended in failure, bankrupted Scotland and led to the Act of Union."

The playwright also wrote this commentary piece for the Herald today, no doubt anticipating the play's substantive themes. The National Theatre of Scotland style the piece thus:

"Inspired by documents, journals, letters, songs and poems of the period, celebrated playwright and satirist Alistair Beaton has created a work that is both a tribute to heroic ambition and a darkly witty take on the deceptions and self-deceptions of rich and poor alike ...Caledonia is a story of greed, euphoria and mass delusion. It is the story of a small, poor country mistaking itself for a big, rich country. It is an ancient story for modern times."

I'm no grumpy bugbear by any means, demanding the Scottification of all of the National Theatre's material, but I very much welcome this example of newly commissioned work, making a foray into an avowedly Scottish subject. I wish it well and hope it comes up to snuff. While the historical interest of the Darien Scheme and its failure is undeniable, it will be no easy thing to turn that interest into an engaging piece of theatre. The show will have a limited run, performing at Eden Court in Inverness from 13/08/2010 - 16/08/2010 before trundling south to Edinburgh's King's Theatre, running from 21/08/2010 - 26/08/2010. As I noted, I won't be able to see the show myself, but if I've piqued your interest and the venues are convenient, do pop along.  Oh, and remember to let me know what you make of it!

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