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SHEY…….

was the story of jute in Dundee. How it got there, how Dundee came to be known as Juteopolis and how the mills are all gone now, how the Irish came during the famine in their droves, quadrupling the population in no time at all in a city which was unprepared for the onslaught,  how they joined Highlanders being cleared off their land, courtesy of the Duke of Sutherland.

 

 But it was also the story of weaving  in the city and how the city and its people, who are not an easily impressed people, have always kept their story moving forward.  The title says it all. Halflins were children who did half a day at school and half a day in the mills. Hecklers? Well, Dundee gave the world the word.

Weavers  speaks for itself. As for the Weemin? To quote poet Dundee poet Ellie Macdonald… and I did get to quote these lines in the play and boy did it give me a thrill to deliver them.

‘For any woman brought up in the Dundee tradition there should be no straining for equality no, need for a new consciousness of the power of women. We have inherited a freedom which seems unnecessary to verbalize. We are just waiting for the world to catch up.’

Why did the women have this freedom? Because they were the family breadwinners.

Shey…Well…..talking that…  because there’s a story that William Wallace went to school in Dundee and got in a ‘rammy’ –a row–with the English governor’s son, Selby, killed him,

thus becoming an outlaw but not before being hidden by a weaving woman just outside Dundee who sort of suggested he disguise himself…..

 

 

Shey. Indeed. Dundee has quietly furnished the world with one or two weel ‘kent’ folks, or folks who were inspired by their stay in the city. 

 

Mary Shelley said Dundee was where she got her idea for the famous ‘unbeast.’  Ian Fleming’s grandfather worked in the jute mills here. We also had a scene involving from mill girl, to missionary to magistrate Mary Slessor.

She was also known as the Mother of All the People. So we had a wee song about her too , one of two we wrote especially for the show, here sung by the most fabulous choirs, Loadsaweeminsingin and The Lochee Linties. In the middle of the first proper utterly chaotic run through, what they had done from scribbled music with Mr Shey’s words had my jaw on the deck.

 

We had the world’s best known writer of bad verse,

 

William McGonagall …  with two of his drunken hecklers….

and an enactment of the only known instance of the famous Scottish play where the lead character refused to die.  We had a wee onstage riot courtesy of Dundee woman Mary Brooksbank who wrote the Jute Mill Song, a visit from Mary Queen of Scot’s ghost, .  And did I mention Winston Churchill, famously served a maggot in his kipper here

and flung out the town which, despite being the drunkest city in the British empire elected a prohibitionist instead.  

We also had a scene featuring Joseph Lee, Dundee’s fighter writer and forgotten WW 1 poet.  Michael Marra’s daughter Alice, also a professional musician, sung her dad’s amazing Happed in Mist as a solo at this point. It was stunning. Here’s his version.

 

and then Mr and I recited one of the poems before the scene started. Alice was so stunning I could hardly speak. For once.

‘I dreamed that a man went home last night, from the trench where the tired men lie.

And walked through the streets of his own, old town. And I dreamed that man was I.’

Shey…I played tour guide Em Fae Dundee, opposite Mr who played Ken O ‘ Dundee, the sort of keeping everything together hardly off the bloody stage,  parts, William Wallace, A singing Suffragette, and on the Sat night cos we were two members of cast short, Mary Brooksbank, mill worker Jeanie

and an American tourist.  Oh and on opening night I do believe I also played an unscripted football fan…don’t ask……….A certain blond wig was on the wrong props’ island at that stage…

Shey. Pretty difficult because none of the stellar cast ever intended to be on this play and so far as I was concerned my directing days were done. Five weeks before the play was due on the theatre company who had been involved pulled out.  Meantime the fabulous choir run by Alice Marra, had learned all the songs, several of which were  written by her late father, Dundee musician Mike Marra. Tickets had been sold. It took two weeks to put together this  cast under the name of  a theatre co Mr and I once ran.

 Oh and of this cast, if we now add in the sound technician, there were four originals. Lol, here’s an oldie.  Anyway of our ‘new hastily constructed’  cast,  only five had ever done any serious theatre work. And two who had, could not do the Saturday night. I had to think about the overall look of the play–hence the tee shirts and the cast never leaving the playing space, I had to think about the difficulties of that nonetheless wonderful playing space the High Mill at Verdant works, a former mill now a museum,   about  working each scene in a way that would let  folks who had never been on a stage, shine–for example rather than cluttering the Highland clearance scene with a cast of thousands, why not just have the whole thing read, even the ‘Be off with you’ bit from the proclamation, as if it was part of it. I also  divvied up the parts in a way that might allow them to rehearse together where they were related to one another.  We had the mill during the day but that was no use to some of the cast.  There was no time for blocking rehearsals going on for weeks, or technical or props ones either.  This play went out there on opening night having been run start to finish twice.  There were bits that had been talked through, in terms of business and props at a meeting and then only had one rehearsal. I have to say the cast were wonderful. LOL and I am not saying that cos more than my Mr were family.

And it’s not easy being right up against an audience, although, the audiences were wonderful, it’s not easy never going off stage either, although okay…we did have a slogan, ‘Every night a different show.’ That was in terms of the ad libbing Mr and me did after he did little things, like start the wrong scene, not know what scene we were meant to start. 

Shey…No doubt, all down to the fact that on opening night,  I spoke the word you never EVER say onstage or off…….

When, in  a noble moment as Mr wandered up and down waiting to hear the immortal words  ‘Turn Hellhound, Turn.’ and would be waiting yet since he’d cut the speech that made scene of the entire scene, and my older girl who had taken the sword fight scene off me the night before, stood saying, ‘ What do I do Mum?’ and she is trained,  I stepped forward and spoke. I also had McGonagall escaping the killing fields not floors. Oh well.  You know, a fabulous time was had by all. Mr Shey loved us for putting on a different play from what he wrote. And yep, the cast were so good, I’m glad they  all said at the after show party, they are well up for another run.. ….  

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