Theatre directors probably dream of an outdoor performance space like the quadrangle of Aberdeen’s Marischal College. The dramatic granite powerhouse, often considered the icon of the city, tonight acts as a home away from home for the National Theatre of Scotland.
Granite is a story set in the often artistically-overlooked silver city, and is a community-based theatre project devised and written by the people of Aberdeen, for the people of Aberdeen. Upon entering the performance space, granite is omnipresent. The audience are seated on granite slabs, the soundtrack of clinking and chiselling in the Rubislaw Quarry echoes throughout the quadrangle, all set against the stunning granite Gothic revivalist backdrop, introducing the city as a cold, industrial, working-class town.
Joyce Falconer, at home in her native city, welcomes us to the city in matriarchal broad Doric, proudly declaring that, ‘This isnae Vienna. It’s a cold city, so dinnae complain’. Central to the story is a young couple who find themselves wishing for more than Woodside, lured to the promise of a better life in foreign lands. The quarry-mason and his young family head for Odessa, but find life under the Russian Tsar a little trying to say the least, before the lure of the silver stone calls them home.
Peppered throughout this story are iconic moments from the city’s history including Aberdeen FC’s 1983 European victory, the game-changing discovery of North Sea oil, the Gordon Highlanders’ involvement in the offensive at the Somme, a night out on the town, and a spine tingling homage to the Piper Alpha disaster. Fisherwives mingle amongst iPad-toting youngsters, while projections of the great and the good of the city’s past adorn granite walls. Philip Pinsky‘s sound design is also boosted by a local choir and trad band. This is indeed an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza, celebrating a city which is often known for it’s hard-to-crack exterior.
Like an extra character in the performance, Aberdeen’s notorious weather makes its presence felt. Under a cloudless sky, the temperature drops, and boy does the howling North Sea wind make the audience shiver in their insulated boots. But it wouldn’t be a homage to this fine city without a chill, underneath which lies a place with an extraordinary story, and people with a heart of gold.