Fringe preview: SpectreTown

This article is from 2015

Fringe preview: SpectreTown

Stoirm Òg's contemporary exploration of tradition in north-eastern Scotland

Burgeoning Scottish company Stoirm Òg is bringing the songs and stories of Scotland's north-east to Edinburgh's Assembly Hall this month. In association with Cumbernauld Theatre, Elspeth Turner's SpectreTown is a collaboration with Vanishing Point's acclaimed director Matthew Lenton that promises an intimate look into the tradition, history, and modernity of Doric culture.

SpectreTown takes place during a period of great change for the north-east of Scotland. 'We have this umbilical cord connecting all these characters across the 20th century,' says Turner. Spanning over a hundred years, the play traces the region's history from the rustic farm life of the first half of the century to the modern city life of the urban Aberdonian.

The show takes its inspiration from 'bothy ballads', traditional folk songs sung by the region's itinerant farm labourers. 'The workers would move on every six months,' Turner explains, 'and, of an evening, when they had finished their work, they would gather round a fire in the bothy, singing songs to each other. They were quite political, because they passed on tips from one farmworker to another about what this boss or that was like to work for.'

In SpectreTown, Turner takes this musical tradition and plugs it into a modern setting to examine the changing cultural landscape of the north-east over the last century. 'We're definitely going to be hearing this kind of music in a context it hasn't been heard in before. We're jamming bothy ballads into electronic beats and doing all sorts of interesting things with it live on stage.'

It was the show's distinctive Doric sound that attracted director Matthew Lenton to the project. 'I think of my shows as being more like music,' he says. 'I don't really identify with plays or theatre very much. It's the musicality of something that draws me to it.'

This collaboration with Stoirm Òg marks a slight break from his usual work, he says. 'It's a different process from working with Vanishing Point because there's a text that already exists. With Vanishing Point, the work tends to come from me personally, so it's often the inside of my head trying to come out into an artistic shape or form. With SpectreTown, it's not the inside of my head, it's the inside of someone else's.'

For Lenton, this relationship gives him a sense of objectivity that is valuable to the creative process. 'This show has a particular life to it which we're trying to understand and get inside, and I think the thing that changes a little bit is my perspective. It's easier for me to be more outside the show and make the kind of observations that other people might make of Vanishing Point's work or of me.'

In SpectreTown, the collaboration between Stoirm Òg and Matthew Lenton creates an exciting exploration of culture that melds Doric traditions with modern life in an authentic and accessible manner. A celebration of the region's stories, songs, and spirit, Turner's play highlights the region's unique qualities and those of universal relevance.

Assembly Hall, 623 3030, until 31 Aug (not 12, 17, 24), 1.30pm, £12–£14.


  • 4 stars

A new play inspired by the bothy ballads of the North East. Written by Elspeth Turner and presented by Stoirm Òg. Ages 14+.