Rising young Scottish writing star ZINNIE HARRIS has won over the Tron, the Traverse and the National Theatre with a true-life drama about the evacuation of a remote Atlantic island. Words: Kelly Apter
In 194‘). a rather shell-shocked (‘ of li vicar was sent to a remote island in the Atlantic. llis spirit broken by what his eyes had seen during World War ll. the (‘hurch felt a place not only free of violence. but most other trappings of civilisation. was just what the Rev. Dennis Wilkinson needed. Taking his wife and two young daughters with him. the Reverend spent the next three and a half years encouraging the residents of Tristan da (‘unha to stay close to (iod while remaining far from the outside world. Ten years later. the islanders were forced from their homes by a turbulent volcano. and the Reverend once again became involved as he helped the 170- strong community acclimatise to their temporary home in Southampton.
liast forward to London l‘)‘)‘). and lidinburgh- based playwright '/.innie Harris receiving the much coveted Peggy Ramsay Award for outstanding new play of the year. Further Than The Furl/zest Thing. Based on the experiences of the Tristan islanders. both at home and in Britain. the play was soon picked up by the National Theatre Studio where it will show in rep this autumn following runs at the Tron and 'l‘raverse. The story of the islanders and their re- jumped Off. location to a new life is fascinating enough. but when you consider that Rev. Wilkinson was llarris’s grandfather. it becomes even more special.
Two years of research into the island's history were complemented by the countless anecdotes Harris grew up on. ‘A lot of the inspiration came from tales that my mother and aunt told me.‘ explains llarris. ‘And they were childhood memories. so they‘re a bit hazy and fully. My grandfather also wrote two poems while he lived there. and there‘s a sense that he felt Tristan was a real haven and should be kept exactly as it was.‘
Blending fact and fiction isn‘t easy. and Harris was understandably nervous about family reactions to the play. ‘1 think they were impressed by how much I got right in terms of language and capturing the
74 THE “ST 20 Jul 3 Aug 2000
Proper nouns were eschewed for wonderful place names such as The Ugly Road, The Place Where the Minister Landed His Things and Where the Goat
Arlene Cockburn and Paola Dionisotti plunge into island life ﬂavour of the place.‘ says llarris. ‘But they were quite concerned that I wrote a careful author‘s note making it clear that these were just the starting points and beyond that you have to look to the real island.‘
And if the real. barren island didn't hear fruits. the stories behind it certainly did. Started in l85() by seven shipwrecked sailors. Tristan’s community steadily
seven potential wives from St Helena. A twice—yearly ship brought much needed supplies to the islanders. who without trees or electricity. lived exclusively on raw potatoes. fish and seabird eggs. Proper nouns were eschewed for wonderful place names such as The lfgly Road. The Place Where the Minister Landed llis Things and Where the (ioat Jumped Off. All rich pickings for a playwright. but events which fuelled Harris's imagination rather than prompting a dramatisation.
‘In many ways I feel as though I stole the real Tristan da (‘unha as an island to set my play in.’ says Harris. ‘lt inspired a story and although it is about the evacuation. there are plenty of events that didn‘t actually happen. But I think it would be silly to deny where this has come from.‘
Further Than The Furthest Thing plays the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 28—Sat 29 Jul (and 6-23 Sep), and the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 2-Sat 26 Aug.
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Stage whispers Re: Treading the boards
FANCY THE LIFE of a set designer? It can be a lonely business, but Glasgow's Tron Theatre has been doing its best to make it less so. The fourth Summer School Of Theatre & Film Design is an intensive five-day course from Monday 15-Friday 18 August in which sixteen participants will be introduced to the principles and techniques of using space as a medium for story-telling and creating atmosphere. Lecturer Sarah Pulley will lead the week with assistance from guest speakers and other practitioners, and it promises to be a fine opportunity for networking. Application forms, which must be returned by Friday 28 July, are available by sending an A4 SAE to Karen Mangan, Tron Theatre, 63 Trongate, Glasgow G1 SHB.
GLASGOW'S CITIZENS’ THEATRE has announced its nine-play autumn programme, the usual mix of (’lassits and (unosities, WltK h l<|(l'<S off on Wednesday 20 September The three mainstage produrtlons are Noel Coward's Blithe Sp/r/t, dire( ted and designed by Philip Prowse, August Strindberg's The Dance Of Death, (.llf(‘(.l(‘d and designed by Stewart Laing, and most intriguineg Rodgers and Harts' Pa/ Joey, a full-st ale musKal also direr ted and designed by Prowse, In the studios, there’ll be the work of Arthur Miller, En< Bogosian Ludovrc Kennedy, Samuel Betkett, Henrik Ibsen and Thomas Mann
ALSO JUST ANNOUNCED is the combined programme for Edinburgh's Festival Theatre and King's Theatre, including return visits of the crowd-pleasing An Inspector Calls, Stomp and Blood Brothers, and newer shows featuring CandoCo Dance Company, Tom Conti (Jeffrey Bernard ls Unwe/I), Rambert Dance Company and the RSC (A Servant To Two Masters). If you book before the end of July, many shows are available at just £5 a seat.
EFT and King's general manager Stephen Barry welcomes organised punters in at £5 a head