Comment: Whisky Galore highlights Gaelic culture

THE NEW Whisky Galore play shows Gaelic culture is coming to the fore, says Brian Ferguson

South Uist man John Morrison with an empty bottle of Highland Nectar whisky he liberated from the SS Politician when she ran aground in 1941. Picture: TSPL
South Uist man John Morrison with an empty bottle of Highland Nectar whisky he liberated from the SS Politician when she ran aground in 1941. Picture: TSPL

THE scattered settlement of Acharacle felt like a perfect setting to pause and ponder on a sun-kissed spring morning. Located at the western end of Loch Shiel, it is renowned in modern-day West Highland folklore as the home of “accordion king” Fergie MacDonald.

But it was not a village hall dance that had persuaded me to take the seven-hour round trip north from Glasgow to one of the most far-flung locations on the UK mainland. It was the world premiere of the National Theatre Scotland’s latest production, a brand new version of Whisky Galore, one of the most anticipated shows of the company’s 2015 line-up.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

When the prospect of a national theatre company for Scotland was being debated in the 1990s, I wonder how many participants thought there would ever be a day when major new productions would be unveiled in remote outposts like Strontian, which hosted Friday’s curtain-raiser.

And who could have predicted that NTS, now into its 10th year of productions, would stage a production with a script almost entirely in Gaelic?

It says a lot, of course, about the company’s willingness to embrace, nurture and promote traditional culture while balance the need to uncover and develop new work. But it is also striking how the impact and influence of the Gaelic language is now being felt in the wider Scottish arts scene.

Much of this is down to the long-term commitment of major events like Celtic Connections and the Hebridean Celtic Festival who have shown that Gaelic music and song no longer be the preserve of the Royal National Mod.The platform given to artists like Julie Fowis and Kathleen MacInnes has paved the way for rising stars like Mischa MacPherson, the Lewis-born singer named best new artist at the Radio 2 Folk Awards last year.

Hugely influential figures include Jim Sutherland, the Edinburgh-based musician behind an award-winning Commonwealth Games cultural event inspired by the Gaelic diaspora, which featured more than 70 writers, musicians, singers and dancers.

Christopher Young, the Skye-based producer behind the first ever Gaelic feature film, Seachd, is now masterminding BBC Alba’s flagship drama Bannan.

But despite the high-quality music programming BBC Alba is rightly renowned for, there is still a sense that it is a bit of ghetto for Gaelic culture. Try to find any Gaelic programming in the regular schedules of BBC Scotland and STV.

With Whisky Galore set to be staged this week in Edinburgh and Glasgow before heading off on tour around the Hebrides, the question is whether it will help inspire an even bigger breakthrough for the language.