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Focus on: Theatre Hebrides

Theatre Hebrides is a new professional theatre company based in Stornoway.  It allows locally based artists and writers to create innovative, professional theatre performance and media work in Gaelic and English.

What makes Theatre Hebrides so unique is their development of Western Isles audiences.  Through consideration of subject matter and relevant issues, Theatre Hebrides have made a real achievement, playing throughout Scotland to full houses Artair and Vivien in Metagama; Photo:Leila Angus, Brighter Still

Background

Theatre Hebrides was set up in 2003 following the impact of the Theatre Highland production An Clo Mor, a celebration of the Harris Tweed Industry in the Western Isles. Audience feedback and questionnaire responses were gathered.  It revealed a serious interest in theatre which accurately reflected the history and attitudes of the islanders.

Theatre Hebrides was born as an arena for professional work that would appeal to an Island audience.  It seems to be working: “Director Muriel Ann Macleod has a gift for hitting on a subject which matters to the community the drama is set in.”  (Hi-Arts review, August 2004)

Whilst intending to appeal to Islanders, the company also aims to promote the unique history and contemporary culture of the Outer Hebrides, within an international framework.  Naturally, the work is designed to have the content, issue and artistic merit of such quality as to stand on its own as a reflection of the culture in this context.

Past productions

 
  • Am Bradan (River of Life) was a large-scale puppet theatre project which toured to 2400 children in Western Isles schools and community in October/November 2003.  It was performed in English and Gaelic.  It brought together elements of the Western Isles natural history, traditions, folklore and modern day twists.
Puppets from Am Bradan; Photo: Leila Angus, Brighter Still

  • Street theatre work includes large-scale puppet performance at the Stornoway Amenity Trust Christmas lights ceremony in December 2003. 
  • Herring Girls was a street performance for the opening of the Stornoway Amenity Trust herring girl’s statues in South Beach Street in March 2004.

Metagama

In August and September 2004, Theatre Hebrides toured Scotland with their production of Metagama by Dermot Healy.

Scene from Metagama; Photo: Leila Angus, Brighter Still Inspired by the ship that left Stornoway for Canada in 1923, the play considers much more than the issues of a single ship – issues surrounding their Gaelic culture and strong religious faith; issues of belonging, birthright, and cultural identity.  It seeks to capture unique aspects of the Islanders experiences.

It was written and performed partly in Gaelic, 'without causing a barrier for those lacking knowledge of Gaelic'.  It also uses some of the local Stornoway dialect of English.  Live music such ranging from 1920s jazz to traditional Gaelic psalms, and pieces of multimedia featured in the production.

The idea behind the play was one that clearly appealed to those filling the theatres.  The tour reached audiences of 960 people in the Western Isles alone, drawing in many who were not regular theatre-goers.

From the selection of hundreds of audience comments fed back to Theatre Hebrides:

  • 'Fantastic performance, very moving, very atmospheric, excellent use of both languages.  Actors performed excellently.' (Finlayson, Aberdeen)
  • 'Beautifully presented, well-written, very emotional, tears and laughter and intense emotion' (MacRae Pollockshields, Glasgow)
  • 'Excellent play - should be seen all over the country' (Anon, Aberdeen)

And in the press:

'The play provides for its audience a wonderful sense of the sweep and sway of history, bringing events to life for a new generation.  It does so with gusto, wit and energy, provoking thought and interest.  Muriel Macleod and her team should be congratulated for their efforts.' (Donald Murray, West Highland Free Press)

Future plans

The future looks fruitful for Theatre Hebrides.  Upcoming developments include:

  • The possibility of an international tour of Metagama
  • Playwrights Commission for new scripts for 2005/06: ‘Callanish Stoned’ from the award-winning Lewis writer Kevin Macneil; and ‘The Men’ from award-winning Gaelic writer Angus Peter Campbell.
  • Publication of the three Lewis plays, Portona by Normal Malcolm Macdonald, An Clo Mor by Henry Adam and Metagama by Dermot Healy.
  • Street theatre and figurative events in Lewis, Summer 2005. 
  • Radio plays to be produced and broadcast in Gaelic and English from Island writers or with island interest.  In partnership with Isles FM.
  • Voice Hebrides 2006, a conference of workshops and performances bringing into the Western Isles international practitioners and teachers of devotional song.
  • Creative Arts and Tai Chi Project in partnership with the Western Isles Health Board.
Gaelic theatre
* Theme - Gaelic theatre
* Profile - Iain F Macleod
 
Related links
* Theatre Hebrides
* Hi-Arts
* An Clo Mor images
 
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