What does ‘being Scottish’ actually mean? It’s not the first time the question has been posed, but it’s the quandary at the heart of Anything That Gives Off Light, which is getting its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival.
What is it?
A new co-production from Brooklyn-based ensemble The TEAM and the National Theatre of Scotland, this transatlantic collaboration celebrates the folk traditions and music of both nations, probing the myth-making that forms our sense of identity over the years, decades and centuries.
A Scottish man called Brian (Brian Ferguson) is facing up to this very question during a homecoming from London, when he meets an American woman called Red (Jessica Almasy) in an Edinburgh pub. They’re joined by his brother Iain (Sandy Grierson) for an exploration of the complex patchwork of history, politics and culture that broadly defines us.
Why should I see it?
Under Rachel Chavkin’s fluid direction, Anything That Gives Off Light is a fizzing, punchy piece of theatre that considers Scottishness through our long relationship with America. Of course, there’s no single, objective Scottish identity, and its to the script’s credit that it doesn’t blunder into its subject head-on, instead shading in details through Brian’s comedic disdain, Iain’s political anger and Red’s bemused reactions.
Backed by an all-female three-piece band that mixes tradition with technology, the three characters’ journey takes them from the pub to the Highlands to the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. It reaches a dramatic climax across the pond, but it’s the more everyday dialogue and musical-style wise-cracking that ensures this production doesn’t sink under the weight of its ambition – even if Almasy’s Red is a little too Calamity Jane at times.
Ferguson and Grierson are both excellent as the brothers who have taken different paths in life, and the latter’s solo observations of modern Scotland (“guys singing Slovakian pop in three-part harmonies” / “a kid stealing tatties from the farm on the edge of the scheme”) is the perfect denouement.
Brian and Iain trying to explain that particular strain of Scottish dourness to the relentlessly upbeat Red is very funny. Black humour at its finest.
How do I see it?
Anything That Gives Off Light is at EICC until 26 Aug, various times, more info
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Main image: Simon Murphy