Drawing Blood is an original play written and directed by Anne Ross Muir, based on the life of world-renowned etcher and Aberdeenshire local James McBey. Performed in Edinburgh and London, the play has never before now been performed in its native city.
The story plays out in an Aberdeen of the not-so-distant past, long before the oil industry firmly established its grip over the city. Set at the beginning of the 20th century, the story charts McBey’s dismal and deprived teenage years, growing up in a city of only ‘granite, vermin and fishing’, where fisherman down by the docks pelted him with fish on account of his artistic (mistaken as ‘continental’) ways.
Like all good artists, McBey’s creativity is a by-product of struggle – food is scarce, his lowly job at a George Street bank lacks any mental or creative stimulation, and he’s left longing for the world outside of the blustering North East. Nowhere is the struggle so prevalent than in the relationship with his blind, sour mother, played skilfully by Loraine Mudie. Pete Smith (McBey) confidently captures the youthful essence of the artist, while slowly succumbing to Mudie’s persistent stiff upper lip.
While the plot was rather straightforward and perhaps too linear, the cast of local faces speaking the local twang made up for it. Doric takes centre stage, Dundee gets slagged, and even the omnipresent seagulls of Aberdeen get a mention. Budgets permitting, more could have been done visually with McBey’s art, especially in a story about finding and harnessing creativity.
In James McBey’s day, the Tivoli Theatre rather fittingly would have been in full swing. After a brief life in the 60s as a bingo hall, the theatre has sat abandoned since 1998. Recently re-purchased, the A-listed building which includes a gorgeous original fresco is in the midst of a regeneration. Currently at 427 seats, the theatre plans to hold up to 530, with ambitious plans to show at least one play a week.