High drama as Scots writer hits new peak

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A BOTHY deep in the Scottish Highlands is hardly the average setting for a play. Nor are the Scottish Lowlands known for their world premieres. But then Edinburgh drama teacher Alan Wilkins, 34, is probably not the average playwright.

The third play penned by the Inverkeithing High School teacher, The Nest is his first to receive a professional production, which is debuting at the Traverse Theatre in the Capital tonight.

Set in a wee bothy near Sgurr Mor, a Munro in the West Highlands, The Nest pivots around three pairs of people who are thrown together in this confined, isolated space.

With an eye for the obscure, Wilkins explores the paradoxical interpersonal dynamics and contradictions that ensue.

First of all, there’s Munro-baggers Colin and Helen, who have spent five years ticking off all 284 Scottish peaks over 3000 feet and have now arrived at their final conquest.

With "a definite tension in their relationship", their Munro-bagging mission also serves as a metaphor for their marriage.

The promotional blurb says ominously: "Now they have to find out what completion really means."

The Nest is also where Mac and Jackie meet for the first time: he in the middle of a single, continuous journey of all of the Munros and she without a map, compass, or, true to stereotype, sense of direction.

And there’s also Innes, "an old man carrying something unexpected and horrific" and Elspeth, for whom, mysteriously "the mountain has the strongest pull of all because this is where their journey ends".

Even more perplexingly, there are only five characters onstage, and exactly what form Elspeth takes remains a mystery.

"They’ve all got different attitudes towards the hills and towards walking," says Wilkins, who talks of "the frustration that that engenders".

At the same time, there is the paradox of complete strangers thrown together into an artificially intimate, intense and ultimately transitory relationship.

"I’ve used that dynamic in the play: you are more likely to confide in complete strangers - you’ll never see them again in your life," says Wilkins.

"On one level, it’s quite a bizarre activity to involve quite so many people. I wanted to explore why. I had the idea of a bothy being a place where characters from different backgrounds could meet and spend some time in the hills. There’s a natural sense of atmosphere when you’ve got an isolated mountain in bad weather."

All in all, a world premiere of a play set in a novel milieu by a local playwright combine to create an intriguing scenario. Especially when you have the "dramatic conflict" created by restless and contrasting characters fenced into a confined space.

Says Wilkins: "For all the characters, those two days in the bothy end in some kind of resolution."

He adds: "If I could have picked the theatre and the city for it to have its premiere, it would have been Edinburgh, so I’m delighted."

• The Nest is directed by Lorne Campbell and stars Candida Benson, Lewis Howden, Matthew Pidgeon, Finlay Welsh and Clare Yuille.

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