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Theatre, the like you’ve never seen before

Parkour at Ignition at Brae. Photo Olivia Abbott

Ignition is not so much a piece of theatre as a creative concept, and the great thing about it is that it draws on the creativity, inspiration and experiences of Shetlanders.

This is theatre by, for and about the people who live on these islands – and it’s theatre like nothing you’re likely to have experienced before.

The aim of Ignition is to explore our love-hate relationship with the automobile.

The project began back in October with a ‘Hitchhiker in Residence’, who travelled around Shetland dressed as the White Wife, collecting stories from Shetlanders about their cars.

At Brae Hall on Thursday night she made a guest appearance, sitting on stage and firing off seemingly random (and definitely rhetorical) questions, including: “Have you ever caught a lobster?” and “Have you ever had a day of reckoning?”, while the audience read pages of diaries from her travels.

And then she asked: “Have you ever stood in a hall wondering what’s going to happen next?”…and the show really began.

Parkour meets ballroom dancing and a Volvo. Photo Olivia Abbott

Without giving too much away, because surprise – or perhaps I should say slightly nervous anticipation – is a major element of the whole thing, you can expect to see film, read diaries, watch parkour and ballroom dancing, be treated to your own private, intimate piece of in-car theatre, and finally, sit down to tea and cakes and a sing-along.

But not all of it happens in the same place. And not everything you see is what other members of the audience see.

One of the intriguing things was being in a car, with a performance being done in that car, solely for your benefit, and knowing that in a car next to you, a completely different show was taking place.

What were the other audience members getting to see? Was their show better than ours? What was it about?

I can tell you that our performance was open to interpretation: in a dystopian near-future, the car has become a refuge, a home and a repository for memories for one lost and lonely soul, whose only companions are a carefully nurtured piece of turf and a collection of fuses and nuts and bolts with whom she has rather one-sided conversations concocted from memory.

And trying to read herself to sleep she reinvents Lord of the Rings while using the car manual as an aide-memoire for what reading from a book once felt like.

Sitting in the back seat of the car, while ‘our’ actress played out her part two feet away in the confined space brought a raw intimacy and discomfort to the scene, and one can only admire the local actors and actresses who’ve taken on the challenge of letting their audiences get so close as to be literally within touching distance while they perform.

These shows, which take place in Brae until 23 March and then go on to Bigton and to Yell, are not all about the car, but they are all car-based and/or car-inspired.

And if you turn up in your own vehicle, you may well be asked to use it, and to offer lifts to people who may or may not be part of the performance.

This is, after all, a community theatre event, and getting involved is part of it and part of the fun.

Full marks then to National Theatre of Scotland, Shetland Arts and Creative Scotland, and to the project leaders Wils Wilson and John Haswell, for making this happen and creating the opportunity for people in Shetland, of all ages, to display their creativity, talent and originality.

It’s fun, it’s different, slightly surreal and ultimately all about Shetland.

Ignition is at:
Brae Hall until 23 March;
Bigton Hall on 26 and 27 March;
Cullivoe Hall on 29 March.

All performances start at 7pm, tickets cost £10 (£7 concession) and must be booked in advance, in person at Islesburgh and Mareel, call 01595 745555 or visit www.shetlandboxoffice.org.

By Olivia Abbott