The Scotsman Sessions #236: Kenny Boyle

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, the actor and playwright Kenny Boyle performs his lockdown monologue Sisyphus

In January of this year, the actor and playwright Kenny Boyle began to release, via his Facebook page, a strikingly powerful cycle of lockdown stories under the title An Isolated Incident. There were six stories read by five different actors, each one around seven minutes long, and each carrying a title with strong supernatural or mythical resonances: they were called Time Traveller, Vampire, Cherubim, Werewolf, Atlas and Orpheus. Each one offered a rare combination of brilliant poetic language, often full of imagery from classical myths and legends, and a deep connection with contemporary social issues exposed by lockdown. And each was illustrated with film of glorious and striking Scottish landscapes from the Hebrides to the Borders.

An Isolated Incident was not by any means Boyle’s first work as a playwright; he had already written at least a dozen plays, including successful Fringe and touring shows Hero Worship and We Never Land, a 2019 panto version of Aladdin for Dumfries & Galloway arts, and scripts for historic venues ranging from Aberdeen Maritime Museum to Culzean Castle, with his Life Of Boswell, written for Dumfries House in Ayrshire, winning him a special commendation from the house’s principal patron, Prince Charles.

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With An Isolated Incident, though, Boyle seemed to make a breakthrough in his writing, to a meditative style that is both hard-hitting and brilliantly poetic; and in this intense and beautiful Scotsman Session, he performs Sisyphus, a lockdown monologue which never made it into the final cycle of Isolated Incident films, but which was written at the same time, and in the same idiom.

Kenny Boyle

Boyle was born on the Isle of Lewis in 1984, and his childhood life was divided between term-time in Glasgow, where his parents both worked as teachers, and long holidays back home in the village of Cromore. He understood Gaelic as a child, although he was never encouraged to speak it, and is now re-learning it; and as in this film, it sometimes appears in his writing, like an echo of a different and more ancient culture.

After school, he studied acting at what was then Glasgow Nautical College, before taking a degree in English at Strathclyde University, and a one-year masters in Classical and Contemporary Text at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, graduating in 2014. As an actor, Boyle started his career guiding tourists on the Edinburgh Ghost Bus (“a baptism of fire”), and quickly graduated to work with the Tron Theatre and Bard In The Botanics, as well as on his own solo shows; he is currently a member of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre Ensemble, providing online content for the theatre’s lockdown programme.

It’s in writing, though, that Boyle now finds his deepest satisfaction. “I think there were two things that were different about writing An Isolated Incident,” he says. “One was lockdown itself, which enabled me to spend months in Lewis, as I haven’t done since I was a child. It’s a very quiet, meditative kind of place, and I think I was able to dig deeper, and to confront some very big themes, because of that.

“And the other is that during lockdown, I’ve become much more honest in facing up to some of my own mental health problems. This has been such an extreme situation, for so many people, bringing problems to the surface that they might previously have tried to ignore – whether in relationships, or in their own wellbeing. I felt impelled to write about that, and to set it in a wider context; and being in Lewis gave me the space to do that, and to move on to what I hope is a new phase, in my work as a playwright.”

More of Kenny Boyle’s work can be seen via his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/KennyBoyleOfficial/

We regret that, for technical reasons, not all of the English subtitles to Kenny Boyle’s Scotsman Session are visible on The Scotsman’s video player. To view a version with the subtitles intact, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fcHi9p9YIw

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