Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman is directing David Greig’s first original play in 7 years – Adventures With The Painted People –which will be having its premiere on Sunday 7 June on BBC Radio 3 as part of the BBC’S Culture in Quarantine Season.

The creative team, led by Newman and actors Olivier Huband (Barefoot in the Park, Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Edinburgh Royal Lyceum) and Kirsty Stuart (Duchess (of Malfi), Edinburgh Royal Lyceum and Citizens Theatre and Shetland, ITV) are producing it remotely in keeping with the parameters of national lockdown.

Originally commissioned to premier onstage in July by Pitlochry Festival Theatre, the new play, which is in association with Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, Adventures with the Painted People is a compelling story about love and culture, set on the banks of the river Tay in the vicinity of Pitlochry 2,000 years ago and follows the adventures of Eithne and Lucius, a Pictish woman and a Roman architect from Tunis, when their paths cross following a military skirmish.

You are directing Adventures with Painted People premiering on BBC Radio 3, what can you tell us about it?

Adventures with the Painted People has always been connected to our large-scale Pitlochry Festival Theatre (PFT) arts project SHADES OF TAY. For us, this project has always been about us conceiving creating an artistic love letter to Scotland. We wanted to express how we feel about our nation, our cultural and environmental history.  All of the art we have commissioned celebrates the brilliance of Scotland and, at times, commemorates the pain that has been experienced by our people, communities, and landscape.

Adventures with the Painted People does both of these things deftly, beautifully and with great warmth. It is the perfect love letter. David Greig has written is a play that gives you lots of good belly laughs, challenges the mind to reach for new complex ideas and yet never ceases to warm the heart. The play is fundamentally about how we live together, how we find the things we have in common despite our differences – and how we do that without ignoring the impact of imperialism, and other inequalities.

There is lots in this story for me about love and humour and the will to survive.

Lockdown means you have had to postpone your 2020 season, what impact will that have on the theatre?

It has had a massive impact on the Theatre. Like all theatres right now, we are working around the clock to keep ourselves alive and ensure we can come out of this and be what our audiences, new and old friends, need us to be.

At PFT, we are also working hard to conceive new ways of making work to ensure we continue to serve the people of Pitlochry and the rest of Scotland during COVID-19. We know we are still needed, and we will not stop doing what the public need from us. We will continue PFT’s mission to be a theatre for all and we will continue our important work to support everyone. We promised to be with people through their lifetime so we will do just that, and this feels even more vital now. It is a time when the public needed us most so we will not abandon them as they navigate this harrowing and unprecedented time.

This is David Greig’s first original play in seven years, and should have been on stage in July what inspired you to continue with the production in a different format?

When I first arrived in Scotland in 2018, David asked to write a brand-new stage-play for us; he was not sure what until we spoke about SHADES OF TAY. He really began to sense what he wanted to write but, yes, I was aware this would be his first original play in a long time. Because of this, neither of us wanted to take our foot off the gas so we had planned to continue its development during lockdown. When we announced that our season had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis, we were immediately approached by BBC Arts to co-produce for their Culture in Quarantine programme. It felt like the perfect offer from Jonty Claypole (BBC’s Director of Arts) and Matthew Sweet (BBC Radio 3’s Head of Speech). We were very inspired by their offer to make the play for BBC Arts and Radio 3.

What made you want to say yes to that offer?

David and I knew we would continue to develop the play during the pandemic lockdown but to have the opportunity to produce in this form – radio is a much-loved form for both of us – has just been truly fantastic. We wanted to say yes because we knew it would also be a great creative project at a time when both of us are undertaking lots of problem solving at our respective theatres. It has been a huge pleasure and privilege.

What has been the biggest challenge for you, directing a stage play for radio in lockdown?

The technology took some time to get used to, of course, and did not always work but that is ok. We worked with independent radio producers Naked Productions to assist us to make the drama in what can only be described as usual circumstances. They were great.

However, it was not being in person with everyone that was the biggest challenge.

Bluntly, as dramatists, this is not how we do our best. Whether that be writer, director/dramaturg, actor we are at our best when we are making together in person. Everything works better when we are in the same room.

I really struggled with not being present with the other artists when we were developing the work and rehearsing. And I would definitely not choose to work in this way in the future. I do not think this is any-where close to best practice, unless working during a pandemic obviously. It is not the best thing for anyone’s mental, physical, and emotional health either. Therefore, I know in my heart, the art has inevitably been impacted. I feel we’ve done the absolute best we can do with incredible support from the BBC and Naked Productions but I have no doubt if we’d been in person it would’ve had a special additional incredible ingredient to help it to bake and rise.

I worry people will suggest – oh this is an easier more efficient way of doing things… let us…

And in that moment, I will not be able to stay silent. I passionately believe in making the best of any situation and seizing any, and all, opportunities. Making this play for radio as part of Culture in Quarantine during lockdown has been a gift. I am grateful BUT this process is not equal to being together. We are in the art of humanity; it is safe to say generating and creating imaginary worlds for audiences to visit is done best when we are at our most human. We are at our most humane when we are together and connected.

Tell us a little about the cast, and what it has been like working with them?

Pitlochry Festival Theatre Adventures With The Painted People
Pitlochry Festival Theatre Adventures With The Painted People

The play revolves around a Roman officer called Lucius and a Caledonian leader called Eithne. Lucius is played by Olivier Huband and Eithne by Kirsty Stuart.

You will have seen their work before. They are great. I have recently directed both actors. Kirsty Stuart in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer alongside George Costigan and Richard Standing and Olivier Huband in Barefoot in The Park.

They are both such talented people but also so incredibly warm, generous, and bright. It is a privilege to work with them.

Kirsty and I went on tour with Faith Healer to the Highlands and Islands and I must say it was a life-changing theatre adventure. And one I will never forget. They are both-marvels and two of the most talented actors I have had the joy to encounter and direct.

What would you say to anyone thinking of listening to Adventures with the Painted People?

Tune in. I promise it is enjoyable. And very funny – it carries you along at a brilliant whizzy pace. The characters are cracking, and the drama is full of light. It beams. The play reminds us it is good to be the teacher and the pupil in any relationship. And this joy of learning about each other also helps us love one and other. We intend to make you laugh and offer up new ideas to challenge us to about how we can live together in communities.

And, at the end, I hope we will give you some hope.

For people, For humanity. For community.  For love.

People can love each other. We can find a way to understand each other. We remember we have more in common. It is joyful.

And I hope your face aches at the end from smiling and that you have been moved by Eithne and Lucius finding each other. We remember you can find love in strange places. Just get a brew or a wine and enjoy.

How can audiences support Pitlochry Festival Theatre during this time?

There are several ways that people can support the theatre:

  1. visit www.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com/ and tune in to our online offer of three arts meals a day: PFTLIGHTHOPEJOY.
  2. In the coming weeks visit our YouTube channel to experience new work as part of SHADES OF TAY project which will include new commissions from some of the UK’s leading playwrights including Timberlake Wertenbaker, Stephen Greenhorn, Abi Zakarian Hannah Khalil, Chinonyerem Odimba, Jo Clifford, Daniel Bye and May Sumbwanyambe.
  3. Please Build your own Theatre at Home! We are there with you in spirit! https://pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com/how-to-build-your-own-theatre/
  4. Give us a call if you would like to talk to someone to keep you company at home? Call us on 01796 484 623. Or email chat@pitlochryfestivaltheatre.comto register for a call. We have not abandoned you. We are here for you. Do not be alone.
  5. If you are able to please donate, every penny is helping us right now.
  6. Finally, and most importantly please come back to us when it is safe to do so. We will need all our audiences to return and come together to make sense of what everyone has been through because of this incredibly sad situation.
Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly


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