JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE YELLOW ON THE BROOM at Pitlochry Festival Theatre for The Scotsman 30.6.14.
4 stars ****
IF THERE’S ONE USEFUL PIECE OF MAGIC theatre can perform, it’s to give us a chance to walk for a while in someone else’s shoes; and that power is never more important than when it’s applied to people who are normally on the receiving on bitter prejudice and mistreatment. Anne Downie’s rich elegiac drama The Yellow On the Broom – first commissioned by Winged Horse in 1989, and now revived in an eloquent new Pitlochry production – is based on Betsy Whyte’s famous autobiography, and tells the story of her childhood as part of a travelling family in the north of Scotland in the 1930’s.
Downie’s play therefore follows the family through the full cycle of a year and more, as they travel the country lifting potatoes, picking raspberries, and wintering in a Brechin slum. The mood is of moments of darkness – of persecution, hardship and injustice – outweighed by the tremendous emotional and cultural richness of the travelling life, driven along by songs and stories, and inspired by the sheer beauty of the natural world; and all of this is captured with great energy and feeling in John Durnin’s skilfully-choreographed ensemble production, featuring a beautiful, simple set by Frances Collier, and an exquisite central performance from Karen Fishwick as young Bessie.
The way of life the play describes has gone now, of course, driven out by increasing urbanisation. But this heartfelt staging of Downie’s fine play leave us in no doubt that in driving this culture to extinction, we have inflicted a huge loss; not only on the travelling folk whose way of life was destroyed, but also, sadly, on ourselves.