Abbey produces thought-provoking drama

Pictured in the Abbey Theatre on Thursday are the cast of their new play The Yellow on the Broom from October 17 tillOctober 29.
Pictured in the Abbey Theatre on Thursday are the cast of their new play The Yellow on the Broom from October 17 tillOctober 29.

AN ARBROATH theatre club is illuminating the experiences of a generation of traveller folk in their latest production.

And such was the attraction of the first performance of Anne Downie’s ‘Yellow on the broom’ that Abbey Theatre Club almost had to turn people away.

The title refers to the yellow blooms appearing on the broom bushes, indicating it was time for the traveller folk to be back on the road.

The story follows the travails of Bessie as she and her family travel through Angus doing seasonal work and being abused by unsympathetic and bigoted urbanites during the 1930s.

While I had expected a straightforward play about a marginalised section of society I was pleasantly surprised by the collection of traditional travellers’ songs woven into the tale.

This was not a forced inclusion, but rather a skilful exploitation of traveller culture that was sympathetic to the script.

The singing was also of a high standard and avoided the pitfall of a musical society that cannot act or a drama group that cannot sing.

The play frequently touches on the discrimination suffered by travellers from ‘scaldies’ or low-born town dwellers who see them as primitive throwbacks.

Surprisingly it is the better off characters in the play who show the family kindness, such as the headmaster who sponsors Bessie at school and the delightfully unhinged Cameron who feeds and employs the family for a season.

Apart from the on-stage abuses, the play alludes to the more general discrimination of Bessie’s kinfolk through newspaper articles, letters written to papers and government departments and from gossip supplied by other characters.

The scene changes were by and large swift, and well worked into the plot when they could not be disguised.

The ‘camp’ which featured in several scenes was simple, yet entirely evocative, and served as an allegory for the unchanging traditions of the travellers, regardless whether they were in Blairgowrie or Meigle.

While ‘Yellow on the broom’ has several horrifying moments of abuse, such as the lecherous Dr Boddy, as Bessie says at the end of the play, it is the good times that she remembers best, and the humour and songs gently balance what is otherwise a very sad tale of social injustice.

JR