Arts Review: The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil

Dir. Joe Douglas, The Citizens, 18th – 22th October

Last Easter, I cycled from Oban to Inverness, spending some time at the outer Hebrides, Glenfinnan, Ben Nevis and the hills near Loch Ness on the way. Even though I’d only been living in Scotland for less than a year, I felt so proud that it was this wonderful country I could call my home. A similar feeling arose while watching Dundee Rep’s performance of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil by John McGrath. The strength and courage of Scots throughout history was tangible in the Citizens Theatre, generated by impressively diverse performances of the actors, the presentation of powerful images on stage and, most notably, heart wrenchingly beautiful music accompanying most of the action.

The Cheviot is one of the most renowned pieces of Scottish theatre, a great influence to generations of theatre-makers and frequently taught at schools and universities. This tour of McGrath’s iconic play is also the first in over 20 years – and it seems that a feeling of privilege to be part of this buzzes through the auditorium. From the start, when the audience is welcomed by part of the Dundee Rep casually playing music, inviting the crowd to clap or even sing along, it’s clear that this theatre doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s one of the most memorable experiences of the night: the feeling of being part of a show instead of just watching it. I can’t imagine a better way to create engaging political theatre.

Even when one has no former knowledge of the play or Scottish history, this is a night to enjoy. The play is dealing with serious issues that mattered at the time of writing in 1973 and still do: Scottish land reform, the North sea oil industry, the treatment of working people in the Highlands and islands and the possibilities of renewable energy. The way this is all brought, with humour and satire, exaggerated characters and audience involvement, makes sure that the messages actually hit home. Even Donald Trump makes an appearance, showcasing that the narrative presented in The Cheviot is still going on.

[Aike Jansen]

Feature image & photographs credit to – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

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