Published in the Guardian NTS at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh Four stars
ROBERT Burns says you should vote yes to Scottish independence. Chic Murray reckons we're better together. Muriel Spark urges you to "act without timidity or fear" – a sentiment echoed by Mary Queen of Scots, who recommends you "be whole, be strong, be merciful". Robert Cunninghame Graham, a founder of the Scottish National party, cautions you to "raise the flag of your humanity beside the flag of your nationhood".
At least, that's what they say in this invigorating collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, in which 20 writers have each given voice to a painting, sculpture or photograph in the collection.
The effect on the two after-hours tours can be dizzying. It's a leap just to get your head around the idea that the actor Maureen Beattie is speaking the words of AL Kennedy in the guise of Robert Louis Stevenson in front of a bust by David Watson Stevenson. That the poet Jackie Kay appears both as a writer (imagining union leader Mick McGahey in a democratic heaven) and as a bronze bust (words by Rona Munro) adds further levels of complexity.
The national question looms large, with strong satirical contributions from Peter Arnott, whose Sir Walter Scott claims credit for inventing Scottish identity inside the union, and Iain Heggie, whose James VI agonises over the designs for the union flag. But several times it's the more oblique responses that make the biggest impression: Nicola McCartney focusing on a bystander at a scene of royal pomp; Jo Clifford noticing the faceless woman in a pub dominated by male poets; Zinnie Harris demanding we take seriously a display of forgotten 19th-century women.
This excellently acted production by Catrin Evans and Joe Douglas turns a gallery full of establishment stuffed shirts into a place of radical provocation.