As the audience enters the Scottish Storytelling Centre theatre, a “museum curator” (Maria MacDonell who also writes and co-directs) is already on stage, reading handwritten letters by torchlight. Birds tweet through speakers and the thrill of live theatre for the first time in a long time is felt amongst the audience, especially when the performer is joined on stage by another actor and a musician as the house lights dim.
Miss Lindsay’s Secret is a true account of Miss Wilhelmina “Minnie” Lindsay – a seamstress from Glenesk, Scotland – and Alexander “Sandy” Middleton – the childhood friend she wrote letters to throughout much of her adult life. Sandy, like many other men, emigrated to Canada to chase his fortune in the early 20th Century Klondike Gold Rush but clung to home via his correspondence with Minnie.
The play is upfront storytelling, performed mainly through the reading of letters, exploration of “artefacts” – notebooks and old photographs – and timelines narrated descriptively and emotively in third-person. As well as chronicling a particular period in history, though, this is a love story without cliché or melodrama. Instead, it conveys the sweet nature of romance as well as the frustration of feelings not spoken aloud. MacDonell’s dive into the past is fascinating and the play even ruminates on the idea of privacy and the ethics of some historical research.
Music is also an effective element here. Musician Georgina MacDonell Finlayson provides an atmospheric backdrop to the story using violin and percussive instruments to shift between jaunty tunes and gentle ambient sounds. The result is a captivating hour of storytelling. The audience is in capable hands and the play confidently sweeps us away with its intriguing tale.