CELTIC Connections is an event that’s both intensely theatrical and not much involved with spoken-word theatre; but at the Tron on Thursday night, the festival staged two shows with strong elements of narrative, weaving songs into a fabric of history and reflection.
Tron Theatre, Glasgow *** | ****
The Gallant 16, created and presented by Christine Kydd, Ewan McVicar and Seylan Baxter, was commissioned to mark the centenary of the Co-operative Party, and has a fascinating story to tell of the Fenwick weavers from Ayrshire who, back in 1758-80, years before the Rochdale Pioneers, formed Britain’s first-ever workers’ and consumers’ collective; and of the huge co-operative movement that spread across Scotland from those small but ambitious beginnings.
There are songs both old and original in which the audience can join, along with powerful visual images; and if the show often seems a little hesitant and roughly sung, it’s still a strong, joyful reminder of a vital and often-forgotten part of our radical history.
For sheer brilliance in singing us through our history, though, it’s hard to imagine a finer hour of song than Twine It Well, curated for five female singers – three of them also playing guitar, keyboards, and fiddle – by the wonderful Fiona J Mackenzie, as part of her work on the Margaret Fay Shaw collection of Gaelic song, film and cultural archives at Canna House.
The aim of the show is to offer a deep insight into women’s lives in Hebridean culture, using some Scots folk songs and a glorious range of Gaelic ones to range through themes from children, separation and war to work and marriage.
The songs are magnificent, and the vocal arrangements for five thrilling voices almost raise the roof of the Tron, embodying in their very sound the strength and complexity of female experience that is the show’s theme; and this is a show that will surely be heard many times more, around Scotland and beyond, in the coming year.