A story of heroes, bullying and bagpipes, by the time Thunderstruck comes to a close you will not quite believe what you have stumbled into. An unassuming stage at the Scottish Storytelling Centre is the scene for a story of scale and pathos, focused on one young piper’s ambitions to be the best and the way he looked up to perhaps the greatest piper to ever live, Gordon Duncan. This is a show of detail, presence and emotional depth that ends on an astonishing high note which you will be reeling from hours later.
Despite his prowess, Duncan’s skill with the pipes is never spoken about in the same way as Mozart on the piano or Jimi Hendrix on the guitar. Thunderstruck’s David Colvin puts this down to stigma against the bagpipes, an instrument no musical group wants to call their own. Colvin’s play is about how he came to learn the bagpipes and how he looked up to the way Duncan rewrote the rulebook on what bagpipes are capable of. Colvin’s story is the heart and soul of the play, a reflective dive into ambition and what it feels like to find your calling. It is laced with a perfectly blended mixture of comedy and pathos (including a very funny interaction with Princess Diana), while any music nerds will be delighted with the technical detail Colvin riddles throughout the performance.
Colvin spends most of the play exploring how he longs for a connection to Scotland and its history through music, expressed both in his addresses to the audience and his contemplative, one-sided conversations with Duncan. It all builds up to a sensational musical climax which allows you to share in that connection. The finale is a musical storm that sends shockwaves through your body, the pipes dominating the ensemble completed by an electric guitar, bass, and drums. It blows you back into your seat, and by the time you fully comprehend the brilliance of what you are hearing, it will be over.
Thunderstruck is an astounding hour-and-a-bit of music, ambition, and the way we look up to our heroes even when they are disavowed by established figures of their craft. Performed without fault and with such unmistakable passion, it deserves the thunderous applause that will inevitably follow once the pipes go silent for the final time. Hilarious and dramatic in equal measure, Thunderstruck is quite unlike anything else.