WHEN they started acting at a teenage theatre group in Renfrewshire, they couldn’t have imagined that one day their voices would spark a cultural rammy from the prestigious boards of the National Theatre.

Now Peter Gynt, a version of Norwegian playwright Henrik Isben’s classic Peer Gynt by a cast comprising half a dozen alumuni of Renfrewshire’s PACE youth theatre, has become just that after theatre critic Quentin Letts referred to their “whining Scottish accents”.

The latest major production of Ibsen’s work, created by David Hare and directed by Jonathan Kent, sees Glasgow actor James McArdle assume the title role, with former PACE members Dani Heron, Philip Cairns, Isabel Joss, Martin Quinn and Ryan Hunter also among the cast.

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A former member of the influential youth theatre group, McArdle studied at Rada and has gone on to win widespread acclaim for roles across film, TV and theatre, with a Theatre World Award and an Olivier nomination for his role in the sprawling revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America last year.

His turn as Peter Gynt is one of the highlights of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival programme, after the production transferred from London’s National Theatre, where a write-up in The Times led to Hollywood A-lister James McAvoy wading in to call out the anti-Scottish sentiment in the review.

“What has caused this hullabaloo is the idea that ‘here’s a Scottish company doing a classic on our national stage’,” McArdle said. who starred opposite Margot Robbie and Saorsie Ronan in the recent big-screen telling of Mary Queen of Scots at the turn of the year “Six of this cast are from PACE, across the generations, people older than me and the generations who came after. And that is fantastic. It’s actually the National Theatre of Great Britain’s privilege to have these actors on their stage and not the other way around.

“Nobody bats an eyelid when an RP voice takes on Macbeth or Italian lovers. And Maggie Smith just did A German Life in an English accent, which was superb, and a privilege to see. But nobody commented that the woman was supposed to be German. And nor should they – we want the story, and we want Maggie Smith performing it.”

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McArdle is no stranger to the question of defending the use of his natural dialect to tell stories on stage.

He said: “When I played Platonov, a Russian anti-hero, people commented that I chose to do it in a Scottish accent.

“But with that as well as this, I think our voices actually suit the characters better. We have a musicality, we don’t clip, nip and tuck, we blast. There’s a lot of emotion in our vowels, and the guttural sounds make fit Russian and Norwegian characters a bit better.”

The new production, which runs until Saturday before returning to London, sees the story begin not in the mountains of Norway, but in the Clydeside town of Dunoon. McArdle’s local knowledge influenced the decision during the play’s development.

He said: “Dunoon just fitted what we wanted to do - it’s a tight community, surrounded by water and mountains.

“At first, some of the people in the room were hitting the wrong syllable. They were calling it DU-noon. But it’s all good now.”

Scotland has a similar landscape. We needed somewhere with water and hills, with a slight agricultural sense, somewhere suburban. That led to us talking about these little villages and towns around Scotland.

Dunoon just fitted what we wanted to do - it’s a tight community, surrounded by water and mountains.

“At first, some of the people in the room were hitting the wrong syllable,” he added, laughing. “They were calling it DU-noon. But it’s all good now.”

Since the production opened in London last month, McArdle has sensed growing politicisation in its reception.

He said: “The play satirises the dangers of nationalism and capitalism and even the interviews I’ve been doing seem to be more politicised than ever. The reviews feel quite political. Everything feels ramped up. I think that because of the political landscape, there’s a heat to everything, especially works of art. I notice it now more than I have done ever before.

“But when I’m performing I’m not thinking about politics, or where I lie politically.I’m thinking about the story, and how to connect to that and make it sound walk and talk like a real human being.

“My desire is for it to be received as such on a human level. Politics is providing an obstacle to how people see works of art right now.

“Everything is being seen through a tribal political filter right now which I hope the country gets out of because when you see how things have played out in America, it’s so ugly. The hope would be that our connection as human beings can trump our political differences.”