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Reviews / ‘Hats off to all the players’: drama festival returns to the Garrison in style

The trophy winners from all the entries following the presentation at the Garrison Theatre with adjudicator Kevin Boland, president of the Shetland County Drama festival Izzy Swanson and long-standing committee member Willie Robertson. All photos: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

THE SHETLAND County Drama festival is back, and we are reminded what a treat it is, writes James Paton.

Weather unfortunately cancelled three performances, but for most the show must go on. A shame more people, particularly Lerwegians, missed this treat. Snow aside, the telly and social media may be taking its toll on capacity to turnout in support of local players. Maybe we are spoiled with too much choice.

Choice was in ample supply across the four nights (6-9 March) at the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick – comedy and tragedy and much in between. Playing to people you know is much more nerve wrecking – ‘singing to your aunties’ than playing to an anonymous crowd, so hats off to all the players.

I was double booked on Monday, so was not present myself, so sincerest apologies to performers on that night, although in my defence I was only drafted in when a proper reviewer was snowed in on da Wastside. I’ll do my best.

Second night

Tuesday saw three performances, the first by a very new (January) drama club – North Sea. The piece certainly gave us value for money with four play-lets within one play, based on the discovery of a box full of hats in a heavily cob-webbed attic.

Confident performances all round, given one player was only returning after a five year absence. We were given insight into Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, where there seemed to be an allergy to breakfast tea. The second hat from the chest was a pirate ship’s Captain, well and amusingly played.

Niall Cruickshank and Margaret Leslie from Brenna Players.

We were then transported to the wild west. American accents seemed a stretch for the young crew. We were then treated to Macbeth’s witches, who turned tragedy into comedy as Macbeth was a no-show. Much more to come from this young trio, they certainly don’t lack confidence.

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A Tales of the Unexpected feel encapsulated the second performance by Scalloway players. None of these players strangers to the boards, with, if they don’t mind me saying, two professionals involved.

Many a ‘football widow’ would have easily related to our leading lady. Persuaded, almost, away from the telly by a game of Uno for two, didn’t quite distract him from the game. I felt her pain.

The couple certainly well portrayed the deep tension in the relationship.  Something was definitely missing. Hubby was certainly all too aware of his shortcomings as he poured his heart out to his mate down the pub, a very serious football fanatic, whose efforts to cheer him up fell on deaf ears.

Returning home, hearts were restored by a happy ending with some sofa ‘action’. Three effortless enjoyable performances.

The evening’s last offering, by Brenna Players, was a much longer piece. A farce in the making as this fallen on hard times Shetland ’boutique’ hotel’s lounge bar showed, with the advertising of a hom bru – Haar Dawn!

The despairing proprietress spirits were difficult to lift by her staunch cleaner, come waitress, come ‘concierge’ ally, not even yoga and meditation could lift morale. Two quick phone calls with bookings lifted the spirits dramatically – an oil tycoon and a lady of the ‘do you know who I am type’.

Slapstick added to the farce with the behind the bar trapdoor providing comic turns as more than one fell for it. Our occasional handyman and heroine’s love interest(?) was a delightful piece of Shetland rough in the mix.

The plot thickened on arrival of separate guests, oil magnate and as it turned our ‘gold-digger’. The desperate dynamics to sell the place to its guests became even more farcical when there were Haar Dawns all round and a fire in the basement. Nonetheless our jaded oil tycoon fell for the place’s charms and our gold-digger was revealed.  Strong, good, solid, believable characters played all round. A good night out.

Third night

Wednesday’s night was a very different affair, with all three plays having bigger casts. Open Door Drama youths provided an all too realistic insight into the school common room where all too typical pubescent behaviour was not in short supply. Just hoping these teenage players are not like this at school.

Theft of the Children in Need fund raising box, announced off stage by our head mistress, created the drama for suspicion, intrigue, back-biting and it all coming out amongst our squabbling ‘youffs’.

Really good confident performances made you feel you were part of it. Alas a false alert as the box was found. Some severely tested and indeed damaged pupil relationships to mend, or not. Surely we were never like that as teenagers!

Open Door Drama gave us Charlie at the Check-Out. Our principal character, new to the world of the supermarket, was clearly far too keen to please, if not entertain and certainly enter into conversation with an array of challenging, if not difficult, customers.

Donald Anderson as Benjamin from the Westside Players’ Benjamin’s Birthday.

This piece was delightfully fast paced with a very realistic feel. The realism was soon shot through by the attempted robbery and feckless perpetrator with what later transpired to be a water pistol, as well as having spoken with a friend in the queue before the ‘stick-up’.

An unreasonable and clearly unhinged complainer who didn’t know the difference between peas and chickpeas – I’m sure it’s happened – a boisterous young woman and a child who thankfully knew how to work her very forgetful lottery ticket buying mother’s mobile phone.

All this before our wannabe robber kicked off. Poor Charlie! You did feel sorry for him, his tannoy pleas for help from management completely unheeded. A really enjoyable show. Great high energy performances to the end performances. It would never happen in the Co-op?

Unfortunately, we were not to be left all smiles. The final performance was set in a care home on the 90th birthday celebration of a resident. His visiting son, clearly the apple of his eye, and by contrast a frowned-on daughter, could not lift this sad despairing soul’s mood.

Turns out this war veteran had reason to be despondent but not as we imagined. Intermittent flashbacks to a behind transparent mid-tabs, showed the progression of refugees from home to concentration camp, where guards meted out intolerable cruelty including assassination by lottery.

A local journalist had come to do a good news piece for the local paper. An uninvited guest arrived, of an age of our birthday boy. The local paper was to get an entirely different story.

Our protagonist turns out to be one of the camps executioners! A very well acted piece, all to credible family dynamics and the difficulties of care homes trying their best although in this case, for someone who did not wish to be there.

Final night

With a healthier audience of about 70, we were highly entertained by three very impressive performances – best till last? Not to everyone’s taste, neither it should be.

The youngest performers’ rendition of the classic Rumplestiltskin was wonderful. With youth comes a lack of inhibition. Full on. The future of amateur dramatics is safe in these players’ hands. The very active villagers gave everyone a presence and opportunity to shine, beyond the inspired straw spun into gold tinsel.

Open Door Juniors with their play Rumplestiltskin.

The middle offering of the evening was an excellent piece of self-penned monologue with so much in it: psychology, sociology, biology, history – definitely in need of several viewings to unpack and get the most of it.

Our player’s support, an usher was giftedly understated, with perhaps the best bon mot of the piece – entirely improvised to make light but reinforce the darkness of the topic of suicide.

This man will go far, not purely on the isles but south. His show is already definitely worthy of the Edinburgh Fringe. Bananaman will live on, despite his reflections on his own demise. An outstanding and consistent American accent.

Logan Nicolson as Bananaman.

Our finale final piece was a superb rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – a beautifully abridged version. High energy from the start – great opening use of video and sound, driving continuity, hilarious sword play!

Even a novice to the bard will have ‘got it’, so wonderfully accessible. Great costumes.

Whilst the adjudicator adjudicated, we were treated to some great Highland dancing – who knew in Shetland – to a great set of eclectic music.

Adjudication

This year’s adjudicator was spot on. His opening observations about audience, or lack of, the first three nights, despite snow were entirely reasonable. I know, I know, us luvvie crowd as too, well, luvvie! ‘What is wrong with folk!’ Certainly a loss of hardiness.

Serious point though: SIC education department preventing pupils, off school, from attending and playing in the evening in their own time, was extremely short sighted.

Hopefully an evening of missed performances to make up, first and foremost for them, will be along shortly.

The Boyes family did certainly earn a special mention. ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ production is eagerly awaited. What a talented family and incredible commitment and energy.

 


 

SCDF Winners 2023

Junior Section John Harald Johnson Cup
Open Door Drama Juniors Rumpelstiltskin
Junior Individual Cup Fraser Cluness Cup
Nominees
Arla Peterson Miller in Rumpelstiltskin
Emily McLaughlin Rumpelstiltskin
★ Amelia Boyes Prince in Rumpelstiltskin
Frankie in Charlie to the Checkout

Youth Section Anna Gray Trophy
Open Door Drama Youth Children in Need
Youth Individual Shied Williamson Trophy
Nominees
Martha Robertson just about everything
Hope Williamson Necklace /12th Night
Grace Parnaby Necklace /12th Night / Benjamin’s Birthday/ C in N
★ Alfie Boyes Benjamin’s Birthday/ C in N/ Charlie to the Checkout
Lauryn Reid Benjamin’s Birthday/ C in N
Dilys Sinclair Benjamin’s Birthday/ C in N
Freddie Archer Benjamin’s Birthday/ C in N
Shetland Section Bobby Hutchison Cup
Brenna Players Welcome to the Hotel Califf
Shetland Dialect Adult Individual Shield Magnus Goudie Memorial
Diane Taylor Welcome to the Hotel Califf
Best Original Shetland Dialect Script George Keith Trophy
Lesley Leslie Welcome to the Hotel Califf
Best Original Non-Dialect Scrip Dorothy Jamieson Memorial
Nominees
E Cost Steve Corton
The Game Kevin Briggs
Bananaman Logan Nicolson
★ Benjamin’s Birthday Doug Forrest
Adult Open Section Gierra Burgess Trophy
Open Door Drama Charlie to the Checkout
Adult Individual Shield Harry Douglas Shield
Nominees
John Haswell
Izzy Swanson
Kevin Briggs
★ Barnum Smith Charlie to the Checkout
Katie Boyes
Hilary Smith
First Time Producer Neil Anderson Trophy
Katie Boyes Charlie to the Checkout
Best Stage Presentation Irvine Cup
Brenna Players Welcome to the Hotel Califf
Most Meritorious Erling Vidlin Cup
Nominees
Martha Robertson
Logan Nicolson
John Haswell
★ Izzy Swanson
Best Entertainment Marion Tait Trophy
Izzy Swanson
Overall Points Winner Minnie Wright Trophy
Open Door Drama Twelfth Night

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