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The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil review at Dundee Rep Theatre – ‘particularly apposite’

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil at Dundee Rep. Photo: Tommy Ga Ken Wan The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil at Dundee Rep. Photo: Tommy Ga Ken Wan
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Leaping out of the history books and into its first professional outing for more than 20 years, Dundee Rep’s production of John McGrath’s groundbreaking play feels powerful and relevant.

The world might have changed immeasurably since its first performance in 1973, but the underlying issues of power, capital and the control of resources have not, while Scotland’s current political landscape makes it a particularly apposite revival.

Director Joe Douglas and his 10-strong cast have done just enough updating of the script to bring it into the 21st century – David Cameron makes a small appearance – without losing their heads over contemporary issues and turning it into a new play.

At its heart, this is theatre which includes its audience in its own process. Graham McLaren’s design brings theatregoers on to the stage, maintaining the ceilidh feel of the original which toured Scotland’s outlying halls. And the script calls on them to participate, whether it is in pantomime-style song-sheets or more formally. Its story, after all, is Scotland’s story: of crofters and their relationship with the landowners; of their clearance in favour of the resources – sheep, shooting and oil – which provided the owners with return on their capital.

Lead by Irene Macdougal this is a robust cast which understands how to break the fourth wall but can create strong characters and ridiculous caricatures, and read dry but horrifying statistics. Billy Mack, in particular, is in his element but Jo Freer, Martin McBride and Emily Winter all excel. Calum MacDonald brings Gaelic into the room. Musically, it is all fingers to the fiddle and all voices to the air, with musical director Alasdair Macrae providing a solid backbone, helping to ensure that this not just brilliant theatre but a great night out to boot.

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Timely revival of John McGrath's great political ceilidh play is updated with integrity and flair