Theatre review: Under Another Sky, Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Though fascinating ideas flicker through this play about a couple exploring Roman Britain in an ancient VW camper, there is little here which is inherently dramatic, writes Susan Mansfield
Under Another Sky, Pitlochry Festival Theatre ***
David Greig’s loose adaptation of Charlotte Higgins’ book about a camper van journey around Roman Britain was first developed as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival’s Playing With Books strand in 2019. Now it has a full production in, appropriately enough, Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s outdoor amphitheatre.
Charlotte (Amelia Donkor) and Matthew (Keith Macpherson) have just started a relationship when Charlotte’s imminent book deadline requires a summer spent visiting Britain’s Roman sites. Fortunately, Matthew, a scholar of Roman poetry and the owner of a geriatric camper van, is at least as keen on the prospect as she is.
For the first two-thirds of the play, they are in a road movie rom-com, delighting in amphitheatres, mosaics and buried cities, playing at being gladiators, bantering in Latin and generally falling in love. But when heavy rain in the Scottish Borders mires the van (which has been a third character throughout) in mud, we know things are going to get stickier from here on.
Directed and designed by Pitlochry’s Elizabeth Newman, the play looks and sounds superb, and Donkor and Macpherson are good at expressing wonder at piles of stones and cottage museums run by enthusiasts, even if the play’s natural intimacy is not always a comfortable fit with the bigger acting required for the outdoor stage.
However, while David Greig brings his customary skill and thoughtfulness to the project, there is little here which is inherently dramatic. Though fascinating ideas flicker through it about conquering and assimilating and how this chapter in our history impacts on perceptions of Britishness today, it remains a pleasant story about two clever, interesting people moving forward with the gentle dependability of an ageing VW van.
In repertoire until 23 September, www.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com