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Beautiful Boy and Miss Georgina Ballentine – #ShadesofTay at The Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writers: Douglas Maxell and Linda McLean

Directors: Elizabeth Newman and Amy Liptrott

Over the last 145 days, sometimes multiple times a day, the Pitlochry Festival Theatre has shared the thoughts, feelings, and creations of those associated with the magnificent venue in the heart of Scotland. For some, the River Tay is a body of water which separates the southern parts of Scotland from the coastal North, but from its source high on Ben Lui to the wide opening of the Strathtay, the river is a life source of inspiration, culture and nature across Scotland.

Presenting a multiple act arrangement of pieces, #ShadesofTay seeks to demonstrate the unending talents of those in the surrounding areas, all connected, one way or another, by Scotland’s longest river. Right into November, each Saturday will see a new release in this thrilling new digital series, and begins with Douglas Maxwell’s Beautiful Boy, followed with the history of Miss Georgina Ballentine.

Possibly the longest piece in the Shades repertoire, Beautiful Boy reels with its use of imagery, and while matched by the visuals, does a tremendous job in hurling the imagination into a mythical realm of enchanted forests and silvery waters. As much a commentary on the subversions of realism as it is in the dangers of expectations and personal comparisons, Maxwell’s piece gradually builds in pace and verse, occasionally dipping into a volatile explosion of drama, before slipping back into peace.

The short film, set to sublime visuals courtesy of Russel Beard and editing from Nick Trueman, makes for a thoroughly engaging half-hour. The croaks and emotion in Richard Standing’s voice are exceptional, highlighting his ability to communicate a great deal in a short span, communicating the desperation and the extent to which overwhelming forces push us down and carry us away.

Following Beautiful Boy is the much shorter, though no less impressive reflection of the silvery Tay, with Miss Georgina Ballentine, written in the spirit of the same woman famed for catching the largest ever salmon in the river near Dunkeld. Written by Linda McLean, Miss Georgina Ballentine takes us further along the Tay as we move through the series of tales dedicated to the region, and Ballentine’s experiences and relationship as the fish lurk beneath the shadows, belaying an untameable nature.

Reflecting the waters on which McLean bases her piece, the poetry flows and weaves itself synonymously with the banks of the Tay, taking deep dives in context, and sudden flourishes of motion. Rachael McAlister’s annunciation lifts the tone, finding suitable pacing to perform while maintaining the dignity and semiotics of McLean’s language and textual wordplay.

McAlister’s voice emulates freedom, charismatic of the region and captures the rivers surprisingly strong currents under a calm exterior. A fitting tribute to Ballentine, and some stellar casting bringing a richness to such a compact piece.

#ShadesofTay promises to maintain the professional capabilities of those in Scotland while the Pitlochry Festival Theatre remains dark, and though the seats may be empty, the spirit of the theatre’s creative prowess ripples across the waters, down steady streams and fuels the aspirations of Scotland.

Available to stream here 

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