The Song of the Clyde

The Beacon, Greenock

Keith Bruce

three stars

MOST of Scottish Opera’s back-of-a-truck shows, re-formatted as al fresco experiences to launch the company’s pandemic-era return to live performance, are, appropriately enough, “trailers” for the experience of a fully-staged show. The current touring package includes bite-size versions of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Arthur Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, while The Song of the Clyde derives more from the work of the company’s outreach department, and is composed by Karen MacIver, arranger of the clever combination of Mozart and Burns in last year’s Amadeus and the Bard.

For its first performances the curtain-sided vehicle was parked as site-specifically as any show can be, at what Scottish seafarers know as The Tail of the Bank on the Clyde estuary. Story-teller and librettist Allan Dunn traced the journey of the river with the help of two singers, two instrumentalists, easel-mounted illustrations by Iain Piercy, and a stuffed, many-hatted, frog called Rivet.

There was a great deal to pack in to the half-hour, and much of it is very skilfully done indeed, from the pizzicato strings of guitarist Ian Watt and cellist Andrew Drummond Huggan evoking the rain that creates the source of the stream to the acrostic singalong panto number that winds things up. Baritone Andrew McTaggart employed the available furniture to illustrate the manual labour of mining and shipbuilding that the river sustained, and soprano Sarah Power made the most of the score’s cleverest song, the existentialist anthem of a working-class wife and mother in New Lanark, Things Could Be Worse.

Its skill and wit contrasted with an acknowledgement of the slave trade integral to Greenock’s trans-Atlantic heritage which sounded very much as if it had been shoe-horned-in late in the day, although leaving it out would have been much worse. The juxtaposition of Dunn’s seriousness on that subject with the pirate larks of Power and McTaggart in a calypso about local anti-hero Captain Kidd was unfortunate at best.

Further performances at Rozelle Estate, Ayr on Wednesday, The Albert Halls, Stirling on Thursday, Platform, Easterhouse on Friday and Riverside Museum, Glasgow on Saturday and Sunday.

Pic by Julie Howden