FOLLOWING yesterday's festivities, a crowd of 8,500 had tickets for an epic tale, written by Raymond Ross and directed by Mark Murphy, and an allegorical history of the clans, giving a vision of Scotland seen through the eyes of Aisling MacLean and six subsequent generations of her family.
It started with the company painting out a vast tartan plaid in pastel pink, blue and yellow across the Esplanade as the Gathering procession piped its way up the Royal Mile. Subtitled "Tales of the Homecoming", it kicks off with Colin MacLean (Joseph Traynor), an Australian of Scottish descent, caught by a spotlight in the audience and stumbling onto the stage as a cast the size of a small army runs briskly by. As he looks over the expanse of tartan, we see each strand represents a step back in history, taking us back to 1320 and the Declaration of Arbroath.
Our guide for the night is Aisling MacLean – a clear-spoken Kirstin McLean in a dress the colour of the blood-red sheets that so frequently straddle the stage in this violent and vibrant historical tale. "My name means vision," she says setting the romantic tone of the hour-long show. "These are all my children."
Murphy's production makes the most of a large cast, precisely positioning them around the huge stage in weaving patterns and crisp tableaux. They rattle their shields, raise their flaming torches and plunge to the ground as a Robert the Bruce emerges, silhouetted against purple light from the Castle archway. Later they form a swaying forest, as we reach the era of James, Earl of Douglas, building to a chilling mass death scene.
Dramatically, the pageant plays shamelessly to the partisan expat crowd, reinforcing the mythology of noble clan warriors, unjustly defeated by the enemy English, though Ross also laces it with a socialist vision of the Declaration of Arbroath as "the birth of liberty".
The heart-on-your-sleeve dialogue gets straight to the point, whipping us through Culloden, Flodden, Flanders and the Highland clearances in a way that plays to the audience's tribal loyalty. Thanks to Murphy's staging and a rousing score by Jim Sutherland, it's an entertaining spectacle for all that.