Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

30/09/2013 - 02/10/2013

Hamilton Fringe 2013

Production Details

After Culloden, Highlanders faced disintegration of the Clan structure. Wearing of Tartan, playing of Bag- pipes, bearing of weapons became punishable offenses. Landlords opting to raise sheep rather than have tenant farmers on their land resulted in families forcibly removed, homes destroyed and wholesale emigration to the Americas. Many joined the British Army fighting in foreign wars. So was the fate of the proud Highlander…

Mon 30 Sept, Tues 1st & Weds 2nd Oct
$10 full, $5 concession, $2 children

From destruction to a new start with new blood in a new land

Review by Gail Pittaway 01st Oct 2013

Part pageant, part folk theatre, this production begins gloomily with the sad tales of the brutality of the English army to the Scottish highlanders; beginning at Culloden, where it ended for so many. From a field of blood follow more grim tales of eviction and betrayal, until the remnants of the highland clans disperse to the new worlds of Nova Scotia, and Australasia, but never lose their pride and customs. 

The script consists mostly of narration, by the writer, Ian Bisset, in fine commanding voice, alternating with songs, mostly old folk songs and ballads from or about the episodes of Scottish history, with a large cast – mostly from the Scottish community and some extras – of men, women and children, choir, as well as musicians, all enacting tableaux and scenes in mime.

There’s an impressive investment in sets, too, with a crofter’s house, a monument and several flown-in backdrops depicting scenes in the kirk, on board ship as steerage passengers, then life in the new lands. With such a large cast, with variations in age and experience, Cecilia Mooney’s direction is simple and clear, although some faster moves between scenes and more confidence with choir singing and speaker pick up would make for a smoother run.

There’s a fine display of tartans and some great costumes and beards, straight out of the days of Braveheart himself, and several swift changes of costume as performers change roles. But at times the bare feet, of soldiers especially and even a judge, are unconvincing. 

It’s the music which makes this production, lifts the sprits and stirs the blood. The opening solo about Culloden, sung by Kate Geard, is so clear and pure it seems like a recording, and although the speakers are sometimes late to pick up the microphones, the ballads and songs tell the stories so well. Matthew King’s tin whistle and accordion are particularly mournful and add to the folkish atmosphere.

The tone lifts towards the end of the piece as commemoration turns to celebration and we are treated to some highland games in mime and introduced to some of the local Waikato Clans, the MacLachlans, Wallaces and Gordons. The children in the cast are delightful and come to the fore, with Aria MacLachlan on Targe and Olivia Gordon performing a sword dance, accompanied by members of the Cambridge Highland Pipe band – two pipers and a drummer – making enough noise for a street parade. 

From such sadness and destruction, Bisset’s text moves past the atrocities to celebrate the present and future.  With a stirring round of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and a final round of the pipes and drums, it’s hard not to feel optimistic and part of the new start, with new blood in a new land. 


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