Almost every seat in Eden Court’s Empire Theatre is taken. It’s press night for The Stamping Ground, written by Morna Young, and there is a real sense of occasion as the audience – comprised of an unusually wide age range – file in. The sparse stage is lit by two spotlights on removal boxes, offering a sense of upheaval and of change.
Hapless novelist Euan (Steven Miller) and his wife Annie (Neshla Caplan) have been together since they were teenagers. When Annie fell pregnant at 16, they moved away for a new start, but now their baby Fiona (Caitlin Forbes) is a teenager and a victim of bullying. So they decide it’s time for a fresh start again, and to return to their roots up North. When the family arrive in the remote community to stay with Euan’s mother Mary (Annie Grace), their ties begin to unravel in ways no one could have foreseen, with long-buried secrets rising to the surface.
Their arrival in their old community is introduced vividly by a comedic tour-guide, the quirky but enigmatic local oddball Summer (Christina Gordon). A powerful peat-cutting dance sequence sets the scene, with spark-effect lighting travelling inventively along lit panels. Lighting is one of the stars of the show; incorporated into Kenneth MacLeod’s inventive stage design, sharply cut light lines in turn symbolise the sea, the mountainscape, or the metaphoric heartbeat of the land. The stage design itself is another winner – particularly a rocky circle backdrop reminiscent of a hagstone, which lights with hopeful stars towards the end.
For fans of the band Runrig, there is certainly much to recognise and love here, with the stirring up-tempo numbers doing particularly well with the audience. The Stamping Ground is the highlight of the first half, and the audience are all on their feet for the finale of Loch Lomond. Among beautiful four-part harmonies, Gordon is a particular joy to watch.
Though much of the show feels relatively static, it comes to life when ensemble movement underpins the action. One such scene is an inventive slow-motion sequence highlighting Euan’s growing isolation from the rest of the community, with his still frame effectively contrasting the movement of a high-energy party around him. As a jukebox musical woven from an existing body of songs, the plot can certainly appear a little thin. Yet, there is no doubt that the show’s cast of characters resonates: the cowed wife and mother who has lost herself in her role; the misunderstood teen; the girl who hides her traumatic past behind a cheerful exterior; the ageing woman longing for a past love, and the man who feels he is a failure and withdraws from his community as a result.
The Stamping Ground is a new, original work, and will no doubt evolve as it settles into its own rhythm. Forget the critic’s quibbles for a moment – there is little doubt that the audience loved it.