This week’s post takes the form of a letter to four brilliant performers (one of whom is also a friend) whose show I went to see this week. Apologies if specific references lose or confuse any readers. Please bear with me…
Dear Drew, Kieran, Julia and Gav,
Last night I came to see Rantin. Thank you.
Thank you for creating a piece of entertainment which really mattered; a performance which I panicked about halfway through. My panic was this: how can we make sure that everyone in Scotland sees this? Especially, how can we make sure that every young person in Scotland sees this?
What you showed me was a Scotland of which I am so proud to be a part. If someone just looked at the surface of this piece, they might question that. What about the character Macpherson? Inebriated, lying face down on Methil pier, scunnered with the world and devoid of all hope… Or Shona? Skint, dispossessed; a fifteen-year-old whose income is essential to her family’s survival. Or Miriam? A refugee who feels utterly isolated, bewildered by this rainy place she can’t call home.
I am not proud that these are real stories (regardless of whether or not they are true stories). I am not proud that my fellow citizens are suffering. I am proud of this: you four, you remembered them all. You remembered us all. I saw a Scotland I recognised. You gave us these snapshots of people in all kinds of situations, all kinds of histories, and all together this gave us a comprehensive picture of our country. I didn’t see people photoshopped from the picture because they aren’t tartan enough. I encountered Howard, moving here from America, and you gave me a context in which I was ready to acknowledge him as a fellow Scot the moment his sneakers hit Scottish soil. I confess, I had never thought like that before. You invited us to accept him as ours, Miriam as ours, Shona as ours… When Howard named us “his people”, I belonged to him, however fictional our relationship.
And the utter empathy and humanity with which you portrayed us all made me rejoice. I feel safe when I hear voices like yours (nice singin’, by the way). I feel all tingly when I think about the referendum and its place in our history. I don’t mean that I think this was ‘Yes’ campaign propaganda; we can celebrate being Scottish whatever the result. (But I did enjoy imagining putting my tick in that box).
As a teenager I believed myself a citizen of the world; I hated the idea of being Scottish (how drab it seemed, for one, and how wrong to put up walls like that!). But over the years I have come to feel quite excited about a more localised collective identity. I can still be a citizen of the world, but I can celebrate my neighbours and enjoy a stronger sense of connection and perhaps a greater possibility for real democracy. Though some might perceive that stating a stronger claim on our identity means we become exclusive, you countered that by inviting us to say, “If you are here, you’re in”.
The four of you recognised all this wee country’s citizens as the bearers of equally relevant stories. Whether we are a country formally united with others or not, if we are a people who consider born-and-bred Scots, refugees, and anticipatory American home-comers as equal residents in the Scottish story, then I am truly glad to be here. Julia, I saw the moment that you clocked us joining in with the final song before we were invited to. I saw your heart swell and your eyes well up; mine did to. So if we can be a nation (again) who are ready to sing along with the brightest voices, who hear harmony as a rallying call, then (are you listening, Macpherson?) there is hope for this little community.
So thanks again.
“So, come all ye, at hame wi freedom,
Never heed what the hoodies croak for doom,
In yer hoose, aa the bairns o Adam
will find breid, barley-bree and paintit room”.
“So come all you at home with freedom
Never heed what the hooded crows croak for Doom
In your house all the children of Adam
Will find bread, whisky and painted room”.)
– excerpt of Freedom Come All Ye by Hamish Henderson, quoted in Rantin.