Theatre is a powerful being, so much so that when a pandemic closes one door, the creative team behind BBC Radio 3’s Adventures with the Painted People blasts open another one with a world premiere that will fill the heart of anyone within hearing distance.
Originally commissioned for the Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s July 2020 Shades of Tay project, Adventures with the Painted People underwent a swift transformation from stage play to radio play under the guidance of writer David Greig and director Elizabeth Newman. With music by Ben Occhipinti and the cast of Kirsty Stuart and Olivier Hubard, the pieceis, at its very heart, a love story.
Eithne wants to record the history of her people. The trouble is, she cannot write. Lucius is a Roman soldier captured by the Picts and is due to be sacrificed. Eithne is an unconventional Caledonian with secrets of her own, and Lucius is far from a conventional Roman soldier: he has poetic leanings and is in disgrace with his own army. The two bond quickly over poetry, taxation lessons and the olive.
Though set in about 85AD – when the occupying Roman army pulled out of its fort at Inchtuthil, Perthshire – the dialogue has the sharpness and quick-witted bite of a contemporary courtship. Whilst debating the pros and cons of Roman versus Caledonian progress, Eithne maintains they have roads. “You have paths” is Marcius’s response, without missing a beat.
As the clock is ticking towards Marcius’s execution, and Eithne’s continuing education, a beautifully open and authentic relationship develops between the two. They both learn the truth about each other, truths that their own people don’t know. From misunderstanding hand gestures to world-record gestation periods, Adventures with the Painted People is about finding the meeting point between language and understanding and, in so doing, is both engaging and enchanting.
Kirsty Stuart and Olivier Hubard bring Greig’s beautifully crafted dialogue to life. Newman’s directorial lightness of touch and the charmingly seductive landscape she creates is enhanced by Ben Occhipinti’s hypnotic score.
On the subject of tales and the underlying bond that is forming, Marcius reflects that he is “not sure who the hero is, but I’m enjoying the story”. Not only is Adventures with the Painted People a triumph of storytelling, the hero is the creative resilience of makers like Greig, Newman and Pitlochry. If a theatrical phoenix is to rise post-pandemic, it could do a lot worse than to look and sound as resplendent as this.
The play will now premiere in Pitlochry on 22 July-1 October, 2021