It’s a cold but cloudless spring night in the courtyard of Marischal College, the chill in the air matching the hard, sparkling grandeur of its great silver-grey walls.
Granite | Marischal College, Aberdeen | Rating ****
Yet it’s not only to celebrate the finished beauty of the place that an audience is gathering here, on either side of a long central stage.
For the story of the National Theatre of Scotland’s latest community-based show, Granite, is all about a city’s hard work and resilience, founded on the industrial process by which these mighty blocks of granite were hauled from the ground at Rubislaw, and then not only used to build much of Aberdeen, but also exported across the world.
Even before the action begins, composer Philip Pinsky’s soundtrack evokes the clanking, grinding and ringing notes of masonry in progress.
Two small cranes flank the stage, in Becky Minto’s design; and in the centre, above the action, hangs a great crystal-like sculpture, like pieces of granite exploding outward to create a new northern star.
All of this makes the most powerful of backdrops to the performance itself, created by NTS Learn director Simon Sharkey and his team over five months, with groups of dancers, musicians, performers and singers from across Aberdeen.
The show features a cast and choir of around 100 community performers, ranging from teenage school students to former MP Dame Anne Begg, plus six professional actors, including a tremendous Joyce Falconer as hard-edged, raincoat-wearing spirit of the city.
Together, they tell the story of a city defined first by granite, then by oil, that knows how to take the blows associated with both industries, and finally how to survive without them.
There’s the spine of a great historical story – beautifully evoked by Elspeth Turner and Mark Wood in the leading roles – about a 19th century stonemason who, with his young wife, takes up the chance to work in Russia, on the granite construction of the city of Odessa. There are strong performances from Alan McHugh and Rodney Matthew in roles that take them from Russia to the North Sea rigs, razor-sharp dance performances from two young Citymoves groups, and a blizzard of powerful images, both live and projected, reflecting life in Aberdeen then and now.
If projects like these remain a relatively low-profile strand of the National Theatre of Scotland’s work, a show as memorable as Granite makes an irresistible case for its huge significance; bringing together community and professional theatremakers, present and future artists, the vital story of a city and all the resources of its national theatre, to produce something beautiful, unique, and full of transforming creative power.
• Run completed.