Dear Scotland

Dear Scotland

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

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Neil Cooper

IMAGINE a gallery after dark. When all the silent subjects immortalised on canvas break free from the frame like some live art happening and give vent to their spleen, having watched the world for centuries.

That's pretty much what the twenty writers who have penned a series of miniature monologues inspired by a particular exhibit have done. National Theatre of Scotland's two dramatic guided tours through the Scottish National Portrait Gallery give voice to some iconic old masters and mistresses, as well as some peripheral figures usually left on the sidelines,

AL Kennedy's opening take on Robert Louis Stevenson suggests what might be, before David Greig's The Cromartie Fool raspberries his own brand of wisdom. Dancer/choreographer Michael Clark's own recorded voice delivers Ali Smith's piece written from the point of view of Clark's knee, which peers from a photograph through fearlessly ripped jeans.

Following the justified anger of Zinnie Harris' women, miners leader Mick McGahey, by way of Jackie Kay's rhyming couplets, reels off a litany of revolutionary heroes and heroines.

From Peter Arnott's vainglorious Sir Walter Scott and Iain Finlay Macleod's James Boswell, to Louise Welsh's Mary Queen of Scots and James Robertson's Robert Bontine, Cunningham Graham, a company of fine actors under the guidance of directors Joe Douglas and Catrin Evans, perform these tiny masterpieces with a committed vigour. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jo Clifford's devastating view from an un-named woman, in Alexander Moffat's painting, Poet's Pub.

As performed by Sally Reid, Clifford's piece dares to question the machismo that fuels much of Scotland's literati with an elegant and essential rage.