Pitlochry Festival Theatre – until 4 July 2021
David Greig’s Adventures with the Painted People is a clever and evocative piece of theatre which is only enhanced both by being the first full theatre production in Scotland since lockdown and by its performance in Pitlochry’s new Covid-secure amphitheatre.
First, however, it needs saying that this is a damn fine production with two strong and nuanced performances that are never upstaged by the al-fresco environment and a thoroughly satisfying script which touches on many contemporary concerns but, refreshingly, without a Covid reference in sight.
Greig’s script, which had an outing on Radio 3 last year, is set in 85 AD and concerns Pictish witch Eithne (Kirsty Stuart), who has had her tribe capture a Roman officer, Lucius (Nicholas Karimi), and is holding him prisoner in their loch-side village.
A strong sacrifice is needed for the forthcoming Beltane festival of rebirth – and it is no coincidence that is the same date given by the Roman’s for the Picts’ capitulation, following their massacre in battle.
Kirsty Stuart creates a fearsome and ferociously intelligent character as Eithne, quickly muddying the waters as to why she has had Lucius captured. A sacrifice, a teacher or a lover all seem completely sensible guesses and, under Elizabeth Newman’s clever direction, Stuart takes great delight in keeping all three possibilities alive.
Nicholas Karimi’s Lucius is perceptive enough to be any of those – and thinks himself more. While Stuart bounces energy about the amphitheatre setting, Karimi provides something altogether more stoic. His Lucius is a proud product of the Empire, certainly, but as an individual he too has a thirst to learn and to understand rather than ruthlessly assimilate.
It’s a perfect palette with which to examine powers and resonances contained in language, myth and poetry. Greig has at his disposal the antagonism between Pictish and Roman cultures, between spirit magic and logic, between formal geometry and free expression and he uses the conversation between them to open up an alternative realm of possibility.
But it is the setting which really makes it a success. Approached along a winding path through formal gardens that gently merge into the surrounding woods, Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s bijou new wooden seated amphitheatre is a beautiful and atmospheric spot for theatre.
Clinging into the hillside behind the main theatre, surrounded by beeches and oaks whose leaves still glow bright florescent green in the early summer evening light (and Jeanine Byrne’s lighting) the amphitheatre looks out over a valley through which, hidden by the trees, a river runs, its song competing with the birds’.
The pre-set for Adventures with the Painted People. Pic: All Edinburgh Theatre.
That constant sound of river and birdsong bleeds into the production, mingling with Ben Occhipinti’s sound design, helping convince you that really are looking into a Crannog, a house on stilts built over a loch, in which Eithne has imprisoned Lucius.
Add the fact that this production breaks our 15 month fast from theatre, our abstention from the rituals of being part of a live audience, ready to witness a unique event, and this becomes something very special indeed.
The Amphitheatre will necessitate its own rituals – a cushion for the hard bench seating and, if the night is expected to be still, a dose your favourite anti-midge formulation. Not to forget the rituals of existing with Covid in our midst, of two metre social distancing and 50 seats in the auditorium.
But that is its character. And for venturing a ninety minute drive or train journey away from All Edinburgh Theatre’s usual patch I make no apology or excuse. This is live theatre and it is worth seeking out.
Running time: Two hours (including one interval)
The Amphitheatre, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Port Na Craig, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH16 5D
Thurs 10 June – Sat 4 July 2021
Evenings: 7pm (10-12,14-16,23-26,29-30 June, and 2 & 4 July).
Matinees: 2pm (12, 16, 26 & 30 June)
Tickets and details: Book here.
Box office and enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Approaching The Amphitheatre at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Pic: All Edinburgh Theatre.