Theatre review: Shinty’s Heroes, Glasgow

The Mitchell Library, home to the Mitchell Theatre. Picture: Public Domain
The Mitchell Library, home to the Mitchell Theatre. Picture: Public Domain
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ORIGINALLY produced for last year’s Blas festival, this entertaining and often moving mix of music, narration and visual imagery simultaneously celebrated the history of the Highlands and Islands’ totemic sport, and commemorated the many shinty players who died in both world wars.

Shinty’s Heroes

Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow

* * * *

As a dream-team traditional line-up, the musical cast – drawn from across shinty’s home regions, as well as from the ranks of Blazin’ Fiddles, Breabach and Mànran – could hardly have been bettered, including as it did accordionist Gary Innes (himself also a top shinty player, and the show’s musical director), fiddlers Duncan Chisholm and Iain MacFarlane, guitarist/singer Ewan Robertson, Allan Henderson on piano, and Gaelic singers Norrie MacIver and Kathleen MacInnes.

Shinty historian Hugh Dan MacLennan fluently linked the songs and tunes with a whistlestop tour through the 117 years since the game’s competitive inception, pausing en route to incorporate his extensive research into its exponents’ wartime experiences, including details sourced from frontline letters and photographs.

The most piercingly powerful moment came when another distinguished guest, Duncan McGillivray, performed the pipe tune Beauly Shinty Club – composed on the Western Front by team-member Donald Paterson – playing the very same bagpipes that were returned, bloodstained, to Paterson’s family following his death in 1915. In broadly similar vein, both the show’s thoughtful, richly rewarding choice of music and its motif of shinty served sharply to highlight the scale and depth of the Highlands’ wartime losses – before a finale appearance by accordion legend Fergie MacDonald, leading a hearty singalong to his unlikely iTunes No.1 hit The Shinty Referee, brought things to a warmly upbeat close.

(Seen on 2.2.14)