Writer: John McGrath
Director: Joe Douglas
Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
Dundee Rep’s revival of John McGrath’s 7:84 masterpiece, The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, received huge critical acclaim last year in its initial run. Driven by an exceptional demand by audiences the length and breadth of the country to see the piece for themselves, the Rep’s revival has since embarked on a tour throughout Scotland in 2016 with its final run at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre this month.
Cheviot is a fusion of music and drama which brings the story of the Highlands of Scotland to the stage. It is a tale of sadness and joy in equal measure, moving through history through people rather than just events, the continued pace through the drama mimics the restlessness, rarely by choice, of the Highlanders and the rapid change to their surroundings.
Rather more an experience than a theatrical piece, Cheviot is rightly billed as a theatrical event. Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre turns into a village hall, where drink is flowing and Scottish standards are given a bash on the accordion. The distinct lack of thefourth wall welcomes the audience from the outset, letting them get to know what TheCheviot is about; there is no high-brow barrier to entry. The piece hits its mark with an acerbic, at times confrontational, narrative, with razor sharp political undertones. No family name, political party or corporation is free from scrutiny. Every beat hits its audience with equal force; at no point is there time for cast or audience to drop the ball, both parties give and get as much as each other and the reward is mutual.
Each actor of the ensemble brings their own unique quality to the production. Most notable is Jo Freer, whose Gaelic renditions are beautiful, combined with her ridiculously over-egged Weegie developer, her talent shines above a wholly competent cast. Nonetheless, each member of the ensemble adds to the perfect mix in this production. Irene Macdougall proves her worth in innumerable guises, and Alasdair Macrae leads confidently as musical director, while also executing a number of roles in the production. The ability of the cast to master characters as well as to score the piece themselves is no mean feat, making for a truly immersive piece of theatre.
As ever in the case of a revival, the question of relevance is posed; with Cheviot, however, that question is quickly answered. With politically acute adaptations and a stellar cast of actors, the underlying message of the piece is arguably more relevant than ever in 2016. Refreshed from its 2015 residence in Dundee Rep, references to a half-Scottish golf tycoon causing a stir in America show that Cheviot is a living and breathing event.
Where, in the present day, national tours focus on big names and well-known musicals, The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil is a real breath of fresh air in the Scottish theatre touring scene. As a drama, it excites and enrages; as a musical, it delights; this production will surely be talked about for many years to come. Cheviot is simply faultless.
Runs until 22 October 2016 | Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan