The Scotsman Sessions #244: Dawn Sievewright and John McLarnon

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Dawn Sievewright and John McLarnon perform McLarnon’s song, Hope.

When Dawn Sievewright was growing up in Bishopbriggs, back in the 1990s, it was all about music and dance. Her Mum was a dance teacher, and Dawn knew all about stage presence and performance from an early age.

It was a visit to the Playhouse in Edinburgh though – to see Miss Saigon, when Dawn was about 14 – that changed her life, and gave her a real sense of vocation. “Singing and dancing at the same time, and telling a story!” she says. “I just thought, that’s what I want to do.” She transferred to the musical theatre course at the Dance School of Scotland at Knightswood; and then at 17, went south to study music theatre In Guildford, graduating in 2009 into a job with a UK touring production of Quadrophenia, and then into the West End run of Legally Blonde.

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“I enjoyed all of that, of course,” says Sievewright, “but I just felt there was something about me that didn’t quite fit in to that West End world. I wanted to get back into the Scottish scene; and In 2012, I had an audition for Cora Bissett’s Glasgow Girls, the musical about the Glasgow schoolgirls who campaigned for their asylum seeker friends to stay in the UK.

Dawn Sievewright and John McLarnan

“And as soon as I got into that, I just thought, this is it, this is what I’ve been looking for. Then I met Vicky Featherstone, the then-director of the National Theatre of Scotland, and she has been a huge influence on me as well, an amazing director.”

It was Featherstone who cast Sievewright in the National Theatre of Scotland’s smash-hit 2015 production Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour, based on Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos. The show travelled on from its Traverse premiere to London, Australia and the United States; and Sievewright began to divide her time between Glasgow and London, developing a thriving career in both cities.

In 2018, though – in rehearsal for Robert Softley Gale’s hit Fringe show My Left Right Foot – she met actor, musician and songwriter John McLarnon, who had trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and graduated to roles, among others, in Outlander on screen, and in the Lyceum’s stage version of Local Hero. McLarnon became her Glasgow tenant and flatmate; and at the start of lockdown, McLarnon and Sievewright – with McLarnon’s girlfriend, and his dog – formed a domestic bubble, and began to dream up creative projects for pandemic times.

Their current 3M Mixtape project, produced by Dundee Rep, is one of the results of those conversations, and involves a lockdown journey to 12 iconic locations in Scotland, from Pollok Park in Glasgow to the Bongo Club in Edinburgh. In each place, Sievewright and another chosen singer will perform a duet version of a song, either revived or original, always remaining the regulation three metres apart for singers in the pandemic; hence the 3M in the title. “There’s just so much musical talent around in Scotland at the moment,” says Sievewright. “We really wanted to do something that would capture that, under lockdown conditions; and this is it.”

Here, though, in this Scotsman Session, Sievewright and McLarnon perform a song not included in the Mixtape project, which he wrote a few years ago. It’s called Hope, and takes the form of a musical dialogue between a couple coming towards the end of a relationship. It’s dramatic, it’s heartfelt, and it offers a fine insight both into McLarnon’s talent as a songwriter and performer, and into Sievewright’s glorious voice, and tremendous duetting skills; all of which will soon be on full online display, as the 3M Mixtape project unfolds over the next three months.

The 3M Mixtape season begins on 30 May, see https://dundeerep.co.uk/whats-on/3m-mixtape

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