There was never any doubt that Runrig musical The Stamping Ground was going to take you on a road that leads to Loch Lomond… but what a great journey it was to get there.
Eden Court has created a stunning piece of new musical theatre in this love letter not just to the songs of Calum and Rory Macdonald, but to the sense of land, place, language and culture they so evocatively encapsulate.
By turns witty, moving, uplifting and poignant The Stamping Ground – co-created with Raw Material – will delight Runrig fans by framing much-loved works in a new setting, win new fans who might not be so familiar with the songs and please fans of a good piece of rousing musical theatre.
And more than anything else, it will remind people of the sense of community and belonging that is a fragile and precious thing at the heart of our nation.
The Stamping Ground has an elegant story of love, loss and belonging
Moray writer Morna Young has crafted an elegant story of a couple returning home to their Highland village of Glenbeg after years in London, twisting through that premise threads of love – new and old – loss, family and home.
A fight to save a local pub in a place where tourists outnumber locals – “there are more hot tubs than sheep dips these days” – becomes a metaphor for larger issues in our society today where too many communities are battling for their souls.
And the songs of Runrig are a perfect fit, driving the narrative along, be it in joyous scenes of celebration – the titular song The Stamping Ground becomes a ceilidh on stage with the toe-tapping clap-along audience threatening to join in – or quieter melancholic moments, such as The Old Boys becoming a plangent hymn at a funeral.
And in this framing, the lyrics have never sounded more poetic or more redolent of a love and a passion for the land we live in.
The Stamping Ground at Eden Court is blessed with a dream cast
The Stamping Ground is also blessed with a dream cast, who gel together seamlessly, especially in the many big song and dance numbers.
Neshla Caplan is wonderful as the returning Annie whose dream of a better life in her home village takes a turn she never expected. Her chemistry with Steven Miller as Euan, her husband confronting demons of his past, is wonderful.
And the pair of them excel on the vocals, particularly in Somewhere, a song that carries a hefty emotional punch as their relationship unravels.
Younger members of the cast are stellar, too, especially Christina Gordon as Summer, a free spirit with a darkness in her past.
She brings unfailing charm to the role and a voice that is absolutely hypnotic, from her haunting duet of Dust with Caitlin Forbes – who plays Annie and Euan’s daughter Fiona – to her gentle way into And We’ll Sing before it becomes a full-blooded, powerful ensemble number.
Christina’s is a nuanced performance of the sort that marks out a true star in the making.
All of this plays out on a stunning set from Kenneth MacLeod, a stone monolith-like backdrop, with a layered wooden platform and panels that double as lightning flashes or the jagged outlines of mountains. It all drives home that ever-present sense of place and myth that roots The Stamping Ground.
There is the occasional misstep – one character is superfluous and at one moment the script veers a tad close to the overly earnest in pointing out its overarching theme of cherishing our land and community.
The Stamping Ground leaves sense of pride about the essence of Scotland
But The Stamping Ground is a joyous thing to watch, full of special moments and one that should leave the audience with a sense of passion about the essence of Scotland – not least that we can produce quality theatre like this. So big thanks to Eden Court and Raw Material for creating it.
By the time we got to Loch Lomond the Eden Court audience was ready to jump to its feet, clap along, sing along and embrace the exuberance and joy of Runrig’s unofficial Scottish anthem.
Little wonder this show is going on the road across Scotland next year. It deserves it.
The Stamping Ground runs at Eden Court until July 30. For tickets and information go to eden-court.co.uk