Best Theatre in Scotland
“I can’t rate this place highly enough. It’s a repertory theatre so you can see different shows each night, and two shows on matinee days. The standard is excellent, there’s a lovely restaurant and always delightful staff.”
The comments of a happy theatregoer this summer who clearly shares my passion for Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which I have been visiting since a young teenager during summer family holidays at Loch Tay; we would drive over to see a matinee, (such as a thrilling performance of “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier), followed by fish and chips in town and then head back to Kenmore. Happy memories!.
Latterly, I have continued to visit most years to see a few productions from the usual culturally diverse programme – the wit of Oscar Wilde, sizzling satire from Noel Coward, bittersweet romance from Somerset Maugham, murder mysteries, (more please!), American drama, (ditto), whimsical fantasies by J M Barrie and contemporary Scottish plays. Artistic Director John Durnin balances period classics with comedy and a lavish musical to suit both the local residents and visitors who flock to Pitlochry every summer.
The PFT’s Repertoire Season 2016 featuring an ensemble cast of eighteen actors, kicked off on 27th May with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical, “Carousel” which quickly proved a hit with theatre-goers .. “Carousel was absolutely marvellous – acting, singing, costumes, set, orchestral music could not be faulted.”
and Critics …“The opening production of Pitlochry’s 2016 season has set the bar high for the rest of the year with a sparkling version of Carousel”. The Stage
Ayckbourn’s trilogy, “Damsels In Distress” offers three comedies – GamePlan, FlatSpin and RolePlay – featuring totally different characters and plots but sharing the same stage set, a smart Docklands penthouse apartment, and performed by the same seven actors. Each play can be enjoyed on its own, see two or three, and if you fancy a farcical feast, a trilogy marathon in a single day.
GamePlan – “The set is sumptuous – a riverside apartment with large sliding doors leading out to a balcony with an impressively realistic view across the Thames”. RolePlay – ” Vintage Ayckbourn performed by a capable cast – the highpoint in Pitlochry’s ambitious three-play revival.” The Stage
5 star visitor review: “We were in Pitlochry for 3 nights. Game Plan and Flat Spin were excellent and the theatre restaurant a good place for a meal before the show“. 27 July, 2016
“Thark” is a vintage Ben Travers classic from 1927, an hilarious comedy of manners in a country house featuring a disparate bunch of English stereotypes, the philanderer Sir Hector Benbow, who fancies the delectable, sweet Cherry Buck; but his romantic plans for the weekend are scuppered by the unexpected arrival home of his wife.
Noel Coward is back with a timely revival of his family saga, “This Happy Breed” in which he starred himself in the 1942 premiere.
In contrast to his inimitable, romantic encounters between fashionably glamorous martini-sipping socialites such as in “Private Lives” and “Design for Living,” this play observes the gritty suburban life of the lower middle class Gibbons family between the wars, illustrating heartfelt patriotism with warm affection.
The final summer season production is “Hard Times” based on the novel by Charles Dickens, a master chronicler of Victorian life and family strife; set in 1870s Lancashire, Thomas Gradgrind is a retired merchant and schoolmaster, who abides by his philosophy of rationalism and fact, lacking any sense of imagination much to the despair of his children and his young pupil, Sissy.
The wonderful, romantic history of the Festival is all due to a passionate vision to create a Theatre in the Perthshire town by its founder, John Stewart.
“When staying in Pitlochry during the early part of the war, I chanced to see a stately house with a fairly large garden, quite close to the town. I at once realised that here my dream theatre might well be established in this fashionable resort right in the heart of Scotland”
His dream did came true, and in 1951, the launch of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre took place in a huge tent in the garden at Knockendarroch. The house became the theatre headquarters and the home of Kenneth Ireland, the Artistic Director.
A tea room and box office were built and soon after, the tent was replaced by a more permanent Marquee where the theatre remained until 1981; on a gloriously sunny May day, with bagpipes heralding the occasion, the new spacious, sleek, glass-fronted theatre opened in such a perfect location on the banks of the river Tummel.
The tranquil Highland setting is surrounded by gardens, woodland and hills, yet an easy walk from the town centre. The Theatre has recently been shortlisted as one of Scotland’s favourite buildings of the past century as part of the Scotstyle Festival of Architecture.
2016 marks the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Theatre and 35 years since the opening of the new auditorium. In recent years, the summer season (May to October), has gradually been extended with a Christmas-time Musical, the Winter Words Festival as well as a concerts, talks and shows on Sunday evenings.
In the Autumn, the entertainment continues with “Para Handy” by Neil Munro about life on board the Vital Spark puffer, featuring stories, songs and a live band. And then it’s time for the Musical, which this year is “Scrooge”, based on A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Having been wowed in recent years by “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”, this will once again offer a great Festival show for all ages.
With an international reputation for high quality productions, over 100,000 visitors every year have the opportunity to see six or seven plays in six days. The theatre with an art gallery, shop, Restaurant and café bar, is a buzzing social hub day and night. Pitlochry is the ideal holiday town with a wide choice of hotels, award winning B&Bs, cafes and restaurants, (see below); shops galore, (gifts, tweed, country clothing, jewellery, arts and crafts), and Edradour whisky distillery. Perthshire is an outdoor playground for hiking, biking, river rafting, hill climbing and scenic drives around Loch Tummel.
The PFT is now looking ahead to its 70th birthday celebrations and has launched a £25 million fundraising scheme, “Through the Vision 2021,” a major project to establish a national centre of theatrical excellence in Perthshire. Across several phases over the next five years, the plan is to extend and improve the front of house, refurbish the auditorium and build a full height fly tower.
In addition, to create a second, smaller auditorium as well as a national centre for production services for skills training, set design, costumes, lighting, sound, technology, which would be available to other theatres. The architectural design includes new riverfront terraces, landscaping, improved access and an enlarged car park.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre is already one of Scotland’s leading cultural tourism destinations, which economically for the local community, is far greater than any comparable UK theatre, and in Scotland, second only to the Edinburgh Festival. By 2021, with a longer season running from Spring to Winter and two auditoria, it is estimated that theatre attendances will rise by 40% to around 140,000 annual visitors.
The PFT aims to play more of a significant and key role within the performing arts sector in the UK through partnerships with other theatres, producers and venues. It will programme the best touring work across theatre, opera and dance and in turn, tour a selection of own productions around Scotland and further afield. The artistic programme will be increased and greatly diversified with more drama, concerts, events and tours year-round.
“Through the Vision, 2021” is a challenging and exciting development, which preserves the legacy of John Stewart and his inspirational dream to establish a Theatre in the Hills.
” ….if you’ve never been to Pitlochry Festival Theatre, you really are missing out. Just try it!”. Theatre visitor, July 2016.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Port na Craig, Pitlochry, PH16 5DR. 01796 484626.
Recommended places to stay and eat:
Craigatin House & Courtyard – Guesthouse of the Year, 2016, Scottish Hotel Awards
Craigmhor Lodge – Best Breakfast award, 2015, Scottish Hotel Awards
Fisher’s Hotel – Old Coaching Inn near the train station; 2 bars & restaurant, lovely garden.
The Old Mill Inn – Scottish Inn of the Year, 2016, Scottish Hotel Awards
Killiecrankie Hotel – Charming, luxury country house with first class, homely hospitality.
Fern Cottage Restaurant – 10 minutes walk from PFT, perfect for pre-theatre meals.
Victoria’s Restaurant – Morning coffee, lunch and dinner – open all day.
Laura Gill graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2011 with MA (Hons) Fine Art. In this exhibition, Solo Performance, her acrylic paintings, ink drawings and giclee prints specialise in figurative work to capture the human body as expressed through the media of music, dance and physical movement.
Her Degree Dissertation was on the Scottish Artist J. D Fergusson (1874 – 1961), whose broad repertoire covered life drawing, portraiture and vivaciously bold landscapes, as a key member of the Scottish Colourists.
In 1907 Fergusson settled in Paris, joining the flourishing and pioneering community of Impressionist artists including Picasso, Matisse and Derain. Portraits of women and nude studies had always been his subject matter but in 1909, a performance of Les Ballet Russes caught his imagination to combine his passion for the feminine figure, motion and dance, with his dramatic use of colour and light as seen here in Les Eus, 1910. And then a chance meeting with the 22-year old English dancer, Margaret Morris, led to work with Margaret’s dance company where he perfected his vision of feminine sensuality and the wild freedom of modern dance. This was a turning point in his life, when the expansiveness of this theme in his art took over and, as lifelong partners, their careers become intricately intertwined.
Laura Gill is clearly inspired by her academic study of Fergusson’s work, in developing her own unique, simple, abstract figures which capture a moment in time, a pause in the flow of dance steps and music.
In her fine selection of paintings are violinists and harpists with their bows slicing on strings, ballerinas “en pointe,” jugglers, an acrobatic handstand and a humorous homage to Vettriano’s The Singing Butler waltzing on a beach, in a giclee print, “Umbrellas at Dusk”.
The classic cartoon-like technique of overlayed figures neatly reflect the movement of legs, arms and the rotating spin of a dancer. Ink drawings are delicate sketches, just a few broad, Fergusson-esque lines on paper, but equally show muscular physicality, energy and elegant poise. There’s a powerful sense of shifting shapes and meticulous timed rhythm in the concentration of these performers on stage.
To vary the theme, here too is an acrylic work, “Chasing Waves”, five yachts with billowing sails – you can almost feel the wind blowing over the beach; but unfortunately, the group of people on the shore distract the eye from this evocative blue-tinted seascape, which in itself should be subject.
Laura certainly has a talent in portraying the intimate, passionate world of the performer, from circus to contemporary dance, which is her forte. In order to focus and enhance her stylistic method, it would be a wonderful opportunity if she were able to be offered the role of Artist in Residence with Scottish Ballet, for instance, or at Dance Base. This would be a most pertinent tribute to the joint artistic legacy of J. D. Fergusson and Margaret Morris.
Laura Gill Artwork – Solo Performance
Whitespace Gallery, 25 Howe Street, Edinburgh.
2nd to 7th July, 2015.