Category Archives: Drama

Poetry in Motion


Last night we attended the magnificent untraditional Burns Supper at Giffordtown Village Hall. It was every bit as good as anticipated. For readers from afar I should point out that the point of a Burns Supper isn’t really the supper itself, but the celebration of the bard’s contribution. As I have said before (see my last post), I think the celebration tips over all too often into adulation, and the formula can become tired and boring.

Doug and Jan Wightman and the Giffordtown Village Hall committee put a marvellous event together. What I’m going to do in this post is perhaps a little cheaty; but it was so good I want to share the joy! This is a selection of the inspired ‘slides’ that went into their shadow puppet rendition of Burns’ epic poem, Tam O’Shanter. Doug read the poem, Jan made the puppets, unseen helpers backstage manipulated the puppets and Steve Gellatly (silent movie pianist) did a dashing accompaniment on the keyboard. The poem title link takes you to Brian Cox reading the whole poem. This will have to do you until Doug gets a recording contract!


When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors, meet;
As market days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate ….


While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An’ getting fou and unco happy …


O Tam! had’st thou but been sae wise,
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na sober;
That ilka melder wi’ the Miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on
The Smith and thee gat roarin’ fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday,
She prophesied that late or soon,
Thou wad be found, deep drown’d in Doon,
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld, haunted kirk.


… And at his elbow, Souter Johnnie,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
Tam lo’ed him like a very brither;
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi’ sangs an’ clatter;
And aye the ale was growing better …


… Weel-mounted on his grey mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet,
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet,
Whiles glow’rin round wi’ prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares;
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Where ghaists and houlets nightly cry …


… The lightnings flash from pole to pole,
Near and more near the thunders roll,
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze,
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing …


… As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The Piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit …


… To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
(A souple jade she was and strang),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d …


Now, do thy speedy-utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stone o’ the brig;
There, at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross…


For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump…


The performance was ace. So were the haggis and neeps and the Tunnocks Teacakes and the alternative address to the haggis; and all the music; and finally, as if we hadn’t had enough pleasure to last a fortnight, a wee dram gifted by an absent friend. Matured in sherry casks so less peaty than you’d expect of a fine Islay. Bliss. Happy Bardic Celebrations, everybody. Keep it fresh.


Something wicked this way comes

I have been watching the old UK version of House of Cards recently – all three series – and was struck by the likeness of the PM’s wife to Lady Macbeth. House of Cards reveals a terrifying aspect to politics, wherein power corrupts; and in Macbeth also, we have Shakespeare’s take on a mediaeval story, much fictionalised, with a riveting overlay of the fear of witches and their powers. The witches tell Macbeth that he will become king when Birnam Woods march to Dunsinane. Ha! Impossible, you might think. But of course they did. Birnam isn’t all that far from here – maybe a half-hour drive – lush and peaceful woodland nowadays. You can only imagine Macbeth’s terror when he looks out of the castle window and sees the trees advancing towards him … and of course it was all his wife’s fault! Not so with House of Cards. The protagonist, Francis Urquhart (F.U. for short! hilarious) is perfectly capable of evil-doing on his own behalf – having a cut-throat-ambitious wife merely smooths the way for him. Hubble bubble, toil and trouble …

These are great stories, full of lust and revenge and superstition. But as a keen cook, I am left wondering what went into that cauldron, apart from the eye of newt etc. Now this may be the longest-winded introduction to a recipe I’ve ever been guilty of, but last time I made beetroot soup, I did think it could be mistaken for a particularly viscous vat of blood. Don’t let that put you off!



Careful handling in this recipe keeps the maximum amount of colour and flavour in the beets, resulting in a deep ruby bowlful of earthy sweetness. The horseradish cream spikes it with a refreshing jolt of acidity.

1kg beetroot

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 carrots

2 sticks celery

2 red onions

4-5 cloves garlic


1 tsp cumin seeds

A few sprigs of thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tbsp crème fraiche

1.5 tbsp creamed horseradish

Sourdough croutons to serve



1.       Heat oven to 180 deg C. Carefully wash the beets, being careful not to pierce the skins, and lay in an ashet. Cover with tinfoil and bake for about 90 mins, depending on the size of your beets – if small, an hour may be enough.

2.       Dice the veg, grind the cumin. Warm the oil in a large pot and add the veg, the peeled and sliced garlic, thyme, cumin and pepper. Stir, fry a few minutes, then put the lid on and leave the mixture to sweat in its own juices for about 30 mins.

3.       When the beets are baked, allow them to cool a little for ease of handling, then carefully slice off the knobbly/hairy tops and bottoms. Peel the skin off – hopefully it will just rub off in paper-thin shreds, but if not, peel as thinly as possible. Chop and add the beets to the veg mix in the pot. Add boiling water to cover, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 mins. Taste and season. Blend, using a stick blender if you have one, till it’s smooth. You might need to add more water. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

4.       Mix the horseradish with the crème fraiche – you want it quite sharp to offset the smooth warm homeliness of the soup.

5.       Serve the soup piping hot, with a generous blob of horseradish cream on top, and a scatter of croutons.


Pa’amb Oli

Here we are in tP1020423he season of local tomatoes again. What a joy. A couple of years ago I had a lovely week in Majorca by the courtesy of good friends. We visited Robert Graves’ home in Deia – he lived there for a large part of his life and wrote most of his major works there (I Claudius for example – one of his best-known, and a great epic. You may remember the 1976 TV series, with the lead role played fabulously by Derek Jacobi. Makes current political scene seem positively benign).

Also while in Majorca I enjoyed the local version of breakfast (only I had it at lunProduct Detailschtime!) – Pa’amb oli – which means bread and oil, and is often also served with tomatoes.  When I got home I found a book written by one of Robert Graves’ sons, Tomas. As you can see, the subtitle is ‘A celebration of Majorcan culture’, and it’s a diverting read, with lots of stories and commentary on the differences, tensions and synergies between mainland Spanish culture, and that of Majorca.

I like to eat local but I also like to stretch my local traditions. The Scottish breakfast has lots of fans but I’m not really one of them. Too fatty for me nowadays; over-seasoned. So the easy morning toasting of a little bread, slicing of a delicious tomato or two, and glugging of fresh oil goes down beautifully with my mug of tea and eases me safely into the working day. In the interests of Scottish authenticity I will also try this with rapeseed oil, which has become a bit of a gourmet item here in recent years. But someone will need to write a vibrant celebration of emerging Scottish culture,  for Bread and Rapeseed Oil to have quite the same morning resonance as my Majorcan memory.


Treasured Memories

Dancing 1940sLast night a drama event was held at Rosyth library as part of Scottish Book Week. Five teenage girls performed a short show in two parts, which they had devised from work with old people in two Fife care homes. The first was ‘At the School’ and the second, ‘At the Dancing’. The show was choreographed with a lively look back at music of the forties and fifties; the audience got to join in the dancing, and were served fairy cakes at half time. As a standalone piece, the show was very  successful and you could see that with further rehearsal it would be a winner round the reminiscence circuit.

However it was much more than just a show. I spoke to the girls afterwards and they told me they had visited the old people, many of whom had dementia, in their care homes, and carefully noted the words they used for the memories that remained with them. One lady gave them a poem she’d written when she was at school, and this was incorporated into the routine, along with various other poems the residents remembered learning from their school days.  Another lady , who had been admitted to the home for end-of-life care, had sat silent and withdrawn throughout; but when she heard a poem she recognised she started to focus, and eventually joined in reciting it.

This is wonderful, skilled, meaningful work and I applaud the girls for their sensitivity, patience and grace in achieving it.

A Chorus of Disapproval

Pitlochry Festival Theatre nestles on the hillside, overlooking the town and the RiverTummel,  with its dam and salmon ladder.  It’s a wonderful setting, and the theatre building itself, in timber, slate and glass, occupies the space with modest confidence.  One of our party today remembered that long ago, the theatre had its origins in a marquee pitched on the grass; and that must have been a very special dramatic experience indeed.

The company who performed for us this afternoon will be performing a different play tonight, and different plays again throughout the week; ‘Stay six days and see six plays,’ as the slogan goes.  An amazing repertory achievement – I can barely remember my shopping list these days, never mind a whole script – to say nothing of six scripts!  Today’s matinee was ‘A Chorus of Disapproval’ by Alan Ayckbourn.  It’s a farce about an amateur operatic company putting on a show, with the naive new boy getting into all kinds of scrapes with the cynical old hands.  I loved it – I thought the script was clever and witty, the direction seamless, and the acting excellent.  The performance by the long-suffering stage manager character was especially inspired; and there was a wonderful bit of stage-fighting between two young female characters, who rolled and tussled around the floor with great fury and commitment.  There was also a funny but poignant scene in which the stage manager was too busy ordering his wife and the leading man to strike various poses to check the lighting effects, to notice the affair they were having in his very presence.

It would be fair to say that I heard some critical comments in the half-time audience; not everyone loved it but I guess that’s inevitable.

The town of Pitlochry is itself a little Highland beauty, and I leave you with a photo which I hope you Ballachulish 13 171will appreciate.  We had lunch in the rather ancient Moulin Hotel, up the hill on the opposite side of the river, about a mile away – it was substantial and good value, in what appeared to be a converted stable.  There is also the Moulin Brewery which has sadly been closed on both the occasions I have had lunch there.  If you don’t want to go off the beaten track there are many other lunch options including the Theatre’s own restaurant/cafe.