A Night By The River Tay – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Directed by Amy Liptrott

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Oh, the stories these waters could tell – from strife, famine and war to heartache and eternal lovers, the River Tay trickles a life force through the nation. The promised conclusion of the unique Shades of Tay project, which ran as digital audio productions, returns to the land for select performances overlooking the Pitlochry landscape staged within the outdoor Amphitheatre. A selection of nine pieces from Scottish writers and performers take their bows for the production’s conclusion, and ripples with the tragedy, humour and eccentricities which the original outings captured.

The Perthshire Highlands hosts Amy Liptrott’s direction as an assortment of scenes collected from writers Chino Odimba, Michael O’Neill, Hannah Lavery, among others, are adapted. Each piece has been adapted from the audio production from the previous year, starting with a rounded performance from Ali watt, Alicia MacKenzie, Jane McCarry and Colin McCredie, and covers family grievances, missed opportunities and the people’s relationship with the River Tay and the landscape of Scotland.

Steadily, the river forges its own path, one which never strays too distantly from its course. It makes at times for safe stories that, whilst never diluting their poetic style or structure, scarcely reaches a depth one expects. Individually the tales had cohesion in their audio format as a complete story, together with the collective highlights individual stories’ weaknesses and shortcomings.

Nervous energy, Watt may only perform a singular story outside of the group piece but delivers the most resonating impact. A little parable of failing to see the forest for the trees, Beautiful Boy touches a shade deeper than at first glance of a timid beasty of a man venturing back from London to his late mother’s home. Douglas Maxwell’s story finds this man inebriated with the what-ifs of the world, the appeal of something more and the regrets of leaving his mother behind with her bald and stressed Cockatoo Chandler. It’s a hard-hitting piece, and though demonstrating Watt’s exceptional range, the length and the complex nature occasionally pushes attention away.

Poetic, McCarry’s leading role heightens the most experimental writing and composition, playing directly into her strengths as a zealous entertainer. Set to the music created by Ben Occhipinti, Morna Young’s A Passing Dance channels a fluidity and elemental nature to the production, lifting it somewhat from the more obscure pieces. Possessing a script that could bury itself in pretty words but rather conjures a purely ethereal appreciation of the landscape. McCarry’s performance is engaging, grabbing attention and bringing smiles to the audience – a lacking feature thus far. 

This welcome change of pace continues as the production moves to wind down, very much required following the journey along the Tay fraught with pathos, pain and heartache. Here is a welcome return to both McCredie and McCarry’s comic performance to break up the tension from previous stories, a pair of siblings paying respect to their late mother’s wishes to climb Scheihallion, or at the very least enough stair-master steps to match the height… Ellie Stewart’s This is Not Scheihallion makes for a gracious finale, demonstrating the simplicity in a touching script, Liptrott’s direction enabling McCarry and McCredie the freedom to capitalise their chemistry and physical humour

And despite these rumbles in the journey, there are few better ways than to spend an evening overlooking the water of this magnificent nation of creative playwrights, actors and theatre-makers. A celebration of the land and spirits surrounding one of the countries’ key water systems, A Night by The River Tay follows a consecutive course, diverting its path where necessary and disembarking from its origins as audio production, arriving safely on the banks of a new future for Scottish theatre. 

Select performances run until September 3rd, tickets can be booked here

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