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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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Monday, November 10, 2008

Otter Pie

© Mark Fisher - published in Northings, Hi-Arts journal

Otter Pie (Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 5 November 2008, and touring)

LOCAL IDENTITY is a nebulous thing. We all know what we mean when we talk about the character of place, but try and pin it down and it slips away. Not everyone in Glasgow is friendly, not everyone in Edinburgh lacks generosity and not everyone in Liverpool has a great sense of humour. Yet these are the images of each city that persist.

It's the same with nations, few more so than Scotland where the desire to forge a collective definition is strong enough to have produced a whole year-long marketing campaign in the form of 2009's Homecoming.

Typically, people shape their national definition through cultural talismans. Scotland's love of Runrig and the Proclaimers, for example, goes far beyond mere music. Another such talisman is Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song, a book not only voted the nation's favourite in a recent poll, but also assuming its place as a very cornerstone of the country's identity.

This is where Glasgow theatre company Fish & Game comes in. A mixed group of young Scottish and English performers, they've noticed that the world Grassic Gibbon so poetically describes has almost nothing to do with their own experience. These 21st century city-dwellers have no real feel for the Aberdeenshire countryside of 1912 with its sense of community, hand-to-mouth living and primitive farming methods. So for all the book's many qualities, it speaks to them less directly than, say, a Michael Jackson record.

Recognising this, they've created Otter Pie, a show that sits – a little uncomfortably – at the interface between popular theatre and performance art, deconstructing Sunset Song with a mixture of deliberately clunky acting and abstract movement sequences.

What's frustrating about the show is it only sporadically capitalises on its amusing premise. Despite a long period of development, too much of it feels like workshop exercises displaying an abstruse connection with the main theme.

When it gets into stride, however, Robert Walton's production is refreshingly daft. The performers show more energy than technique, but they have a loveably self-deprecating sense of humour and a subtle awareness that Grassic Gibbon's novel is both distant and close to them. It's a bit of a curiosity – as you'd expect with a title like Otter Pie – but with just enough oddball entertainment to be worth a look.

Otter Pie is at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on 11-12 November 2008

© Mark Fisher, 2008

1 comment:

J Sulter said...

Being dragged to a show about Sunset Song by my girlfriend was not my idea of a good night out. I remember reading Sunset Song in school, beautifully written - but a dreek and depressing story. How surprised and relieved I was that this show managed to use the story to frame the companies own ideas about Scottish identity. The performance was funny, vivid and not at all what I expected. I was intrigued by how the director intertwined the meteorite scenes with the story of Sunset Song and used it to emphasise how we as a nation should look more towards the positives in life, as opposed to having 'oor face tae the wa'. Would definitely recommend seeing this show - and who knows I might take my girlfriend to this company’s next performance!