SONGS SHINE IN DELIGHTFUL TRACING OF THE SCOTTISH THREAD IN OUR SETTLER HERITAGE
Written and directed by Jacqueline Coats
Single Malt Collective
at Various venues - on tour, New Zealand wide
From 4 Nov 2012 to 25 Nov 2012
Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist, 5 Nov 2012
Maggie (Rowena Simpson) and Johnnie (Stuart Coats) are two Scottish immigrants to New Zealand, who meet and marry just before the First World War. Home tells their story in admirably economical fashion, showing how important traditional and popular songs of the period were in mediating the changes in their lives: from Scotland to New Zealand, in romance and in the trials of battle.
Jacqueline Coats' script is well researched, well judged at every moment and really allows the songs to shine. They are also beautifully performed. Douglas Mews provides exemplary accompaniment, and both Rowena Simpson's soprano and Stuart Coats' tenor are technically and colloquially faultless – and powerful and accurate when needed. The songs are always well acted in addition to being well sung.
Highlights for me included the ‘Skye Boat Song', whose lyrics of 1884 recall the defeat at Culloden in 1745. Here the song is perfectly contextualised in the journey of the NZ Expeditionary Force to Egypt and eventually to Gallipoli, looking both forward and back to the Scots' brave, optimistic and unfortunate history in battle.
As the programme notes, the play focuses on one thread of the fabric of New Zealand's settler culture and this strategy works well. It displays the distinctive dialect and flavour of earlier Scottish songs, particularly nationalist songs, and shows how the development of the characters' national identity progresses, particularly through their adoption of other songs.
Their love of music makes them open to new ways of understanding their situation more generally. The climactic duet of “Po Atarau” or “Now is the Hour”, sung in te Reo, works wonderfully at every level.
Home is a delightful small production. It does make one want more: the writing and the performers could easily sustain a show of up to an hour and a half of running time, provided there was also a modest lighting plot. Even in this production, a lighting operator was sorely missed, as some simple shaping of the lighting would have added another dimension to the emotional contours of the piece – as well as relieving pressure on the necessarily skimpy set. While budgets are tight in the Arts on Tour scheme, this may be something to consider for the future.
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See also reviews by:
Garth Wilshere (Capital Times);
Kirsty van Rijk