Published: 17/10/2008 00:00 - Updated: 25/11/2011 16:18

Back street girl's story comes alive

Alicia Sim as Lady Jane in the play that proved a hit when it was staged in Elgin.
Alicia Sim as Lady Jane in the play that proved a hit when it was staged in Elgin.

WHEN Elgin's Red Shoes Theatre Company decided to bring local author Jessie Kesson's autobiographical novel "The White Bird Passes" to the stage, they did it on a near epic scale. With a cast of 43, including two girls playing the central role of Janie McVean, and a running time of almost three hours, "Lady Lane", as the play was called, proved a hit when it played over four nights at Elgin Town Hall. For the play's debut in Kesson's birthplace of Inverness, as well as two shows in Aberdeen, some extensive remodelling has taken place. The cast has been slimmed down to a more manageable 18, while the play itself has also undergone big changes. "It has been completely rewritten," show director Henri Edwards said. "I rewrote the script and I have changed most of my direction on stage from last year. Tish Tindall, the musical director, has scored it orchestrally and rearranged all the music. So it's a very different show all round." In its original form, "Lady Lane" was written by local musicians Kenny MacDonald from Elgin and Fred McDonald from Nairn and was an entrant in Eden Court and Cameron Mackintosh's Highland Quest to create a new Scottish musical eventually won by Edinburgh vampire story "Sundowe". The play and book, which was filmed for television in 1980, are based on Kesson's upbringing in a back street lane in Elgin in the 1920s, seen through the eyes of eight-year-old Janie McVean. The rewrites have also slimmed the running time down in comparison with the version shown in Elgin in September 2007. "Obviously we've kept the integrity of the story but the whole thing is just a lot tighter," Edwards said. Cast changes mean that the central role of young Janie is no longer split between two young actresses. Alisha Sim judged by one critic to have stolen the show along with Rachel Atkinson as her mother in last year's production, retains the role of Janie, while Shelley MacDonald now plays Janie's older friend Gertie. The two girls are not the only cast members who will find the workload different this year. "The cast are having to work a lot harder because they are having to double up on characters, and because the show is a lot tighter we don't have time for the costume changes we did before," Edwards said Also getting a revamp for the 2008 revival is the set. Having concluded that the town set used in Elgin would be impractical to transport to Eden Court, the production is now placing greater reliance on projections to set the scene. Edwards said this had proved highly effective in certain sequences. "There is a hanging in the show which we did in silhouette and it looks really good," she said. When the play was performed at Elgin, local newspaper the Northern Scot described it as a triumph and said: "It deserves to live on beyond its first run, for it has a relevance far outside the local history of Elgin." Edwards agreed the story would appeal to audiences outside the town where the play was set and revealed there had been discussion about taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe. "The story is a good story and though local to us in Elgin it's pretty universal," she said. * "Lady Lane" is at Eden Court's OneTouch Theatre tonight and tomorrow at 8pm.  

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