In an enterprising collaboration between Northwestern University in Chicago and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, two new musical theatre pieces about emigration are showing on alternate days at the Assembly Hall. Both plays make use of Scottish and American folk music, played live.
Atlantic: A Scottish Story is by Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie and tells the story of a girl on a Scottish island who decides not to follow her boyfriend across the Atlantic to the New World, and the repercussions of this decision. The story is told through song and movement, with stagecraft of a high order used to suggest changes of locale and time.
Particular setpieces such as a near-drowning and the departure across the Atlantic are wholly engrossing, and the piece develops a headlong momentum which is most affecting. In the opening moments, the cast produced the sound of the sea, a motif that recurred throughout, and the storytelling that followed was exemplary.
The simple setting of a few wooden pallets was used most inventively, and the interweaving of text and song worked very well. The music, whether choral or individual, was appropriate and beautifully sung. With no programme or castlist (although I did discover a photoboard outside) it is not possible to name individuals, but the actors playing the central roles convinced throughout.
With the discovery of letters and a failing marriage, the story seemed to be heading for a tragic ending; which in a way it was, but one that is representative of so many family stories at a time of emigration. This was theatre of a high order, thought-provoking and sensitive, with a cast who show that there is much they have to offer as they take up their careers in musical theatre.
The companion piece, Atlantic: America and the Great War, runs on even dates and tells of emigration from the United States to Europe around the time of WWI.
With thanks to the Royal Conservatoire, I now have the programme which should have been given out at the venue, so I can now credit Director Scott Gilmour and Musical Director Shonagh Murray. In the central role of Evie was Caroline Lyell, a commanding performance, and opposite her as Quinn, Reed Lancaster made much of his role as the gauche suitor. In a strong cast, others to catch the eye included Osian Garmon as a glowering rival in love and a touching performance from Andrew Sowrey as Arlo (despite the ear-ring looking out of place). The five piece band were also integral to the success of the performance and it was good to be able to see as well as hear them.