The 2019/20 season marks both the 80th anniversary of the Dundee Rep’s opening and the 20th anniversary of the founding of its resident ensemble.
To celebrate this, the theatre is focusing on work with a close link to the social and cultural history of its home city.
This first, flagship show of the autumn dramatises what is probably the most widely known event in Dundee’s history: the 1879 collapse of the Tay Rail Bridge, when a train was passing overhead, killing all on board when it plunged into the icy river below.
This story focuses not on the disaster itself, but upon the imagined lives of seven of the 75 passengers on board, including Irene Macdougall’s neglected clergy wife; Anne Kidd’s loyal servant, rejected after a lifetime of servitude; Emily Winter’s orphan turned prostitute, now on her way to a life of means; and Barrie Hunter’s unassuming serial killer, in a nod to the rumour that Jack the Ripper fled to Dundee.
As ever, Dundee’s ensemble is a pleasure to watch, and the theatre’s artistic director Andrew Panton marshals these interlocking stories with a customary taste for the physical. This is particularly true of the deceptively simple scene changes, as when designer Emily James’ rusted old cage of a carriage – possibly representing the internal lives of many of these frustrated individuals – is rotated upon a turntable.
Playwright Peter Arnott’s script is typically couched in an awareness of the social hierarchies and tensions of the time, and he has a keen ear for the Dundonian Scots dialect, while the emotional palette conjured by lighting, sound and video gives the physically transporting effect of cinema. As is typical at Dundee Rep, a simple concept is transcended in its execution.