Redcoats, Turncoats & Petticoats by Hamish MacDonald 1998
- “a sparkling wee dram of originality for Highland Festival” Highland News
- “a deft blend of solid research, comic absurdity, withering satire, lyrical imagery and swift changes of mood and pace” Inverness Courier
From an idea by Alan MacKinnon
Directed & performed by Hamish MacDonald
Produced by Alan MacKinnon
Backdrop by Jackie MacKenzie
Soundtrack engineered by Wayne MacKenzie
The Paper Boys – Limerick Smith
Hack at the Bar – Donald Fraser
Redcoat Ghost - Will MacKinnon
Publicity design by Alan MacKinnon, Roz Stewart & Neil Buchanan
Oh Drumossie, thy bleak moor, ere many generations have passed away, shall be stained with the best blood of the Gaelteachd. Glad I am that I will not see the day, for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score and no mercy will be shown or quarter given on either side...
Prediction of Coinneach Odhar, the Brahan Seer, c. 1670
Follow me gentlemen, and by the assistance of God I will, this day, make you a free and happy people…
Prince Charles Edward Stewart’s battle address to his Jacobite army
Cloning is the first serious step in becoming one with God...
Dr Richard Seed, American physicist and human cloning enthusiast
The Scene is the small upstairs bar of The Old Market Inn in Inverness, a haunt long favoured by townsfolk, transients and troubadors. One time nucleus of the Highlands’ folk music revival, the bar has witnessed many cultural tendencies rise and fade. Perched like a crow’s nest amid gables and slates behind brightly painted tenements and fashionable shopfronts (as though the town is holding behind its back some secret and deadly hand of cards) to this exotic rookery each night flocks a multiform of humanity, from bunnet-wearing ancients suspended over their drams to cataleptic Goths in all their funereal finery. This is a place of music and story, complete with haunted cellar and staircase, carrying a tale of old that wheezes from it’s charred lung and sings out on a whisky-fumed breath. The Old Market Inn, it is said, stands on the site of a brothel used by Hanoverian soldiers in 1746.
The time is Highland Festival ’98 and the upstairs bar has been converted into a small theatre space, the audience momentarily relaxed by the soothing soundtrack of Duncan Chisholm’s Moonlight on Loch Ness. Meanwhile, the dirty-faced angels of Limerick Smith are sweeping through the streets as Twenties New York paper boys, roaring out the exclusive that a one-legged Seannachie (storyteller) is in town with a story to tell. They descend upon the bar as the music pitches into jagged rhythms, rising in tempo and volume, coming to a sudden stop as Seannachie rushes in to begin the story he is now compelled to tell.
From the small stage the action unfolds, spanning the centuries through the storyteller’s mouth, a man claiming to come from the future and with the Brahan Seer’s divinity stone (rescued from the belly of the Loch Ussie pike) securely in his pocket. This is the journey the audience must take, following a cast of characters whose destiny will converge on the Market Inn where Redcoat ghosts are by now walking from the walls in a hiss of smoke. Through swift onstage costume changes the characters are encountered; the reluctant Jacobite Alastair Mor who follows Bonnie Prince Charlie to the bitterest end; Dr Kolinski-McAskill the American cloning scientist who seeks Highland DNA enriched in second sight; a corpse recovered from a peat bog in Skye, and the American agent Conrad Winterman who pursues the wayward Seannachie across ages and continents.
Throughout, while a tabloid reporter takes notes at the bar, the story questions the credibility of reporting, looking at the black propaganda used against the Jacobites – reported on a valve radio from the 1740’s as both information and chronology become distorted – the vision of Kim Phuc Phan Thi, the terrorised naked Vietnam girl fleeing an American napalm attack in 1972, haunts the wall behind the Seannachie as the terrible aftermath of Culloden is retold. When Alastair Mor is taken prisoner by Cumberland’s soldiers he escapes and secretes himself between the walls in the brothel, where a disturbing denouement will crystallise the characters and the centuries between them.
The play ends with a nerve-shaken Winterman and Seannachie now relieved of his burden ready to exit. The soundscape which has included music from locally and globally famous Wolfstone, a few terrorised screams and a heartbeating synth, now plays out the mocking strains of Will Ye No Come Back Again? as the paper boys return distributing exclusives on the Seannachie’s tale, closely followed by the rousing skirls of two girl pipers from the Inverness Legion pipe band as they march their way into the bar.
MacKinnon and MacDonald’s production played to packed houses throughout the festival. Punctuated and underscored by Highland music, while aiming for a direct and immediate relationship between performer and audience, the play laid the foundations for Dogstar Theatre.