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Granite review at Marischal College, Aberdeen – ‘visceral, heartfelt’

The cast of the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Granite. The cast of the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Granite.
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The first words spoken on stage by the National Theatre of Scotland were in Aberdeen as part of Home, its theatre-without-walls launch across ten different cities. A decade later, the city takes a central role in the NTS’s tenth birthday programme with this bold, often visceral, community-led celebration of the city and the gritty, glittering stone from which it is made.

Any attempt to tell 153 years of history – from 1863 to date – in 70 minutes is going to fall back at some point on lists, a naming of the parts.

Not a problem when you have the Doric as your tongue and the mighty Joyce Falconer to enunciate them – whether she takes the names of the fallen alone or it is a rolling wave of performers, community and professional alike, who mark the attributes of the city and its people as they wash back and forth along the 20m transverse stage.

Using the people of Aberdeen’s own stories, dramaturg Peter Arnott and director Simon Sharkey create scenes from times of great resonance. Such filtering leads to unevenness – Aberdeen FC’s 1983 European triumph is understandably hazy and a Christmas Day 1914 letter from the trenches cliched. But there’s formidable resolve to missionary Mary Slessor’s news of saving twins.

The most successful scenes involve moments of change (the arrival of the oil industry) and tribulation (drowning in the granite-grey sea). Continuity comes in a blistering narrative fragment – a mason and his wife lured to Odessa in the 1860s by the Tsar’s promises of no-expense-spared rebuilding. Mark Wood and Elspeth Turner give them a vibrant telling, their sense of justice spurned by the tsar’s secret police.

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Visceral, heartfelt but uneven depiction of the grit and the glint of Aberdeen and its stone