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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Pipers' Trail

© Mark Fisher - published in Northings, Hi-Aarts

THE PIPERS' TRAIL (George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, 12 August 2008)
14 August 2008

MARK FISHER checks out the Army’s venture into theatre

THE THING that made Gregory Burke's Black Watch feel so radical when it was premiered by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2006 was that it put the voices of ordinary solders on stage. Here was a war play that was less about the rights and wrongs of combat than about the squaddies whom we pay to do a job in our name. Although it raised important questions about the invasion of Iraq, its greatest political challenge was in taking the soldiers seriously.

This, you would expect, would normally be the job of the army itself which presumably accounts for the arrival of The Pipers' Trail, a play designed to showcase the army's "virtues of teamwork, individual excellence and a proper focus on collective endeavour".

Introducing the play, Lieutenant Colonel Stephanie Jackman admits the forces have been "remiss in engaging society" and explains The Pipers' Trail has been put together as a way of reminding us that the military is a part of society, not something separate from it.

Staged by director Bryan Lacey for ImpAct Theatre Company, it is part of a cultural package that included a series of piping and drumming workshops organised by the army on a 470-mile journey from Shetland to Edinburgh, via Orkney, Inverness, Stirling and Glasgow.

Of course, there is something mildly comical about the army putting on a play – especially one that seeks to promote the institution's "values and standards" – but the production has a simple honesty and a fresh-faced energy that make it hard for us to be too cynical.

A morality tale about the 16-year-old Jamie (Gary Morrison) who journeys from Shetland to Glasgow to compete in the World Pipe Band Championship, it suffers from clunky lessons about courage, discipline and respect, but compensates with a brisk pace and frequent musical interludes.

I'm too far beyond the target market to tell whether it would serve as an effective recruitment tool – my guess is any savvy 16-year-old would see straight through its moralising – but tourists and families in the mood for a bit of old-fashioned conservatism will be gently entertained. As for the rest of us, well let's just say the army is not about to steal the National Theatre of Scotland's thunder.

© Mark Fisher, 2008

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