Theatre review: Rantin (Hamilton Town House)

Rantin
Rantin

What does being Scottish mean in 2014? It’s a complicated question which is being hotly debated in this referendum year.

It’s also a subject that’s occupying Scottish artists, with the subject of national identity popping up repeatedly across the genres in recent months.

Playwright and performer Kieran Hurley is the latest to take on the multifaceted issue with ‘Rantin’ - a combination of music and storytelling which manages to look to the country’s future whilst acknowledging its past.

While it’s promoted under Hurley’s name, it’s actually the result of a collaboration between him and three other performers - Julia Taudevin, Gav Prentice and Drew Wright. “A bit like Bon Jovi”, Taudevin explains in a slightly awkward opening disclaimer.

Set in a dishevelled living room laid out in the middle of whatever public hall or library it happens to alight in, it’s an informal and intimate environment which perfectly suits the small tales of a handful of people around Scotland.

There’s an American visiting his ancestor’s homeland for the first time, swatting up on the lingo on the plane, while a Palestinian refugee has already arrived and is questioning the looks she’s attracting on a bus.

Then there’s the drunk seeking salvation, the islander leaving for the mainland, the small town schoolgirl railing at the economics of Adam Smith and the Edinburgh venture capitalist signing the deal of his life.

Meanwhile, just outside the venue (on this night the Hamilton Town House), a lonely market researcher is just looking for simple human company.

These modern snapshots of ‘Scottishness’ are presented in a series of vignettes, with traditionsal-sounding folk ballads linking, expanding, explaining and entertaining throughout the journey.

There’s an element of Daniel Kitson (who has expressed his admiration of Hurley’s last show ‘Beats’) in the way the stories ebb and flow before coming together in a emotive, almost cinematic, end.

But the sheer passion of the songs sung by Prentice and Wright elevates it above the more twee leanings of the storytelling genre to deliver something more substantial and rugged - much like the Scottish landscape which provides a constant backdrop for the ceaseless (d)evolution of its people.