Rantin, Summerhall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
National Theatre of Scotland in association with The Arches
Kieran Hurley (director), Lisa Sangster (set and costume design), Matt Padden (sound design), Paul Claydon (lighting design)
Kiran Hurley, Gav Prentice, Julia Tuadevin, Drew Wright
Running time

A version of ‘Both Sides of Tweed’, Dick Gaughan’s song of mutual English-Scottish respect prefaced ‘Rantin’, thus promising well for this piece, self-identified as ‘ceilidh-theatre’, deliberately setting out to define (so far as that may ever be possible) the nature of ‘Scottishness’ ahead of the Referendum later this year.

Definitions are often defied by the diversity and complexity of the subjects they attempt to define, and although Kieran Hurley and his fellow performers make some brave efforts, it is their own choices, in terms of this production, which are (sometimes literally) under the spotlight here.

To be fair, the venue itself, one of the high-ceilinged rooms at Summerhall, hardly creates the kind of ingle-neuk atmosphere ‘Rantin’ is presumably intended to be presented in, making the intimacy presumably hoped for difficult to achieve.

Diversity and complexity, so much and for so long the warp and weft of Scottish history and culture are here nodded at but scarcely taken to the heart of ‘Rantin’.

Instead we are given a handful of voices and stories in an attempt to replicate the kaleidoscope of contemporary Scotland, but in some instances these don’t move us very far beyond the stereotypical or tokenistic.

Given the title, there is indeed a character named Macpherson, who although drunk, has his own sharp-eyed vision of what has befallen us lately, although it’s not quite enough to fully engage our sympathy. The same can be said of Howard, the optimistic U.S. citizen exchanging his identity for a Scottish one of his own imagination. It’s only Julia, a contemporary would-be Luddite of the automated checkout tills who really comes to glorious life here.
Perhaps the problem of material devised by the company is that it reflects too closely the anarchic nature of existence, going off in a variety of directions and failing to focus fully on any one of them.

To be fair, as this reviewer headed for the exit, it was clear that the company were receiving a standing ovation from a largely young audience, and while there may be a generational gap in taste, it’s undeniable the cast did its level best to carry the piece over its ninety minute length.

It’s a pity, nonetheless, that the vieux canard of a capitalist interpretation of Adam Smith wandered unaccountably into the proceedings, and we were treated to a version of Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come all Ye’ which felt to this reviewer that his local clergyperson had suddenly announced he’d found a rather jolly new tune for the twenty-third psalm and added a new verse of his own composition. While Henderson was noted for his relaxed attitude to oral tradition, like other aspects of this production, it didnae feel right.

6 February (touring, Edinburgh run ended)