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Theatre review

The Yellow On The Broom

The Yellow On The Broom

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Neil Cooper

This week's announcement by T in the Park that, as of next year, it will shift sites from Balado to Strathallan Castle may embed Scotland's liveliest music festival even firmer on Perthshire soil, but it is far from the first temporary tented village to plant roots there. This is made vividly clear in Anne Downie's dramatisation of Betsy Whyte's 1979 autobiography, which has barely been seen on Scotland's stages since it was first produced by the appropriately nomadic Winged Horse company in 1989.

On the one hand, Downie has penned a richly evocative first-person rites of passage of Whyte's alter-ego, Bessie, the tobacco-guzzling brightest spark of the Townsley clan, a family of travellers winding their way through 1930s rural Scotland. As Betsy, her father Sandy and her mother Maggie are forced to move from place to place, however, they run a gauntlet of classroom snobbery and institutionalised prejudice that looks frighteningly contemporary.

Opening with a traditional Scots chorale performed in silhouette from the back of the stage, John Durnin's production taps into a rich if barely seen culture that bustles with the noise of life on the road. There are shades of John Steinbeck in the play's portrayal of recession-driven migrants, while in Karen Fishwick's vibrant and gutsy performance that forms the show's heart, Bessie is revealed as a literary soul-mate of Arnold Wesker's Beattie Bryant in Roots.

If this is at times undermined by cartoonish portrayals of gallus Glasgow besoms, eccentric toffs and dubious clergymen, Durnin, Downie and company have presented a moving and timely portrait of a community for whom home is forever a town away.

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