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The Stamping Ground written by Moray playwright Morna Young thrills Highland crowd at Eden Court

By Chris Saunderson

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Back on the stamping ground

to where it all began

Back on the stamping ground

We come again..

Legendary Scottish band Runrig was born on the Isle of Skye in 1973.

They went on to worldwide acclaim – always rooted in their native Scotland – and bowed out in 2018 in front of more than 50,000 fans in Stirling.

Rory Macdonald of Runrig. Picture: Andrew King
Rory Macdonald of Runrig. Picture: Andrew King

Their songs have been woven into the fabric of a new musical which premiered at Eden Court, Inverness this week and runs at the Highlands venue until July 30.

Morna Young, a rising star playwright based in Glasgow but with her own family firmly rooted in Burghead here in Moray, penned the story to The Stamping Ground.

Playwright Morna Young. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Playwright Morna Young. Picture: Colin Hattersley

Euan (Steven Miller) and Annie (Neshla Caplan) are childhood sweethearts, parents at 16 and now returning to their home village of Glenbeg on the west coast of Scotland from London, where author Euan wote his one-hit romantic novel.

A traumatic bullying incident involving their teenage daughter Fiona (Caitlin Forbes) prompts the loving but troubled couple to make a fresh start back in Glenbeg with Euan's mum Mary, played by Annie Grace.

The village is fighting for its very survival and identity, battling to save its pub from a developer, and keep its community together. Euan and Annie find themselves at the heart of that battle, while they also fight to save their relationship and help their daughter adjust to a massive change in her life.

Fiona finds a new friend and soulmate in Summer (Christina Gordon), a local tour guide in Glenbeg.

Director Luke Kernaghan with writer Morna Young during rehearsals for The Stamping Ground. Picture: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Director Luke Kernaghan with writer Morna Young during rehearsals for The Stamping Ground. Picture: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

What ensues is an emotional tale of home, love, belonging and pride.

The warmth of the characters shines through in the portrayal by the cast.

The lyrics of some of Runrig's classic songs have been interspersed with the storyline to take the characters on a journey.

I will leave it to you to find out if Glenbeg saves its pub and Euan and Annie rekindle the love that still burns between them and find a new future together.

Neshla Caplan, who trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and has many theatre credits to her name, provided a powerful performance as a mum and a wife trying to find herself, while holding together her family and community.

With the Covid pandemic in the rearview mirror – certainly in terms of restrictions which kept people in their homes for much of the last two and a half years – it was great to be part of a large, live audience and they warmed to the performances of the actors and the songs of Runrig.

The Cutter, Going Home, Skye, The Stamping Ground, Dance Called America, Hearts of Olden Glory –just some of the Runrig songs which were part of the story.

Rory Macdonald on stage at Runrig's farewell concert. Picture: Andrew King
Rory Macdonald on stage at Runrig's farewell concert. Picture: Andrew King

And, of course, there was only one song which the night could end on – Loch Lomond, which got the crowd on their collective feet and clapping and cheering in tandem with the cast as they took a well deserved ovation.

This production by Eden Court and Raw Material – founded in 2018 by Margaret-Anne O'Donnell and Gillian Garrity – with support from Highland Council and Creative Scotland, was directed by Luke Kernaghan and took life from a concept by Alan B McLeod.

Rory Macdonald, one of Runrig's founding members and chief songwriter along with his younger brother Calum, was there to see his music given a fresh twist.

He said: "I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't know a lot about musical theatre, it's not something I am very familiar with and I was able to feel quite detached from what was going on. So I just sat back, relaxed and was entertained.

"I loved what they did with the songs and how they performed them, and the little tweaks they put in.

"There were some situations where songs would overlap and then unexpectedly some songs that would have been solo songs for us became choral songs.

"Morna has come up with a wonderful storyline based around the lyrics and what the band was all about. She has weaved that into the story."

Rory (2nd from left) at the start of the Runrig journey.
Rory (2nd from left) at the start of the Runrig journey.

Morna Young said she was "extremely proud of the actors" for the way they brought the story to life.

"They are so beautifully talented. It is about sharing it now. With any musical you hope it is going to go on a journey."

Morna first put pen to paper on the story last November.

"It has been quite a quick process for me but amazing. I was terrified (about the timescale) but also at the same time it was the offer to write a Runrig musical, which was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I love Runrig.

"If you are from here, Runrig is in your blood.

The Stamping Ground is at Eden Court until July 30.
The Stamping Ground is at Eden Court until July 30.

"The great thing about Runrig is that their songs are poetry. There is so much depth to the lyrics and it was such a challenge to go into each one and figure out how we tell the story. And the theme that kept coming out for me again and again, was the land, the land, the land, and people.

"The question of Scottish land is always ongoing and it is something Runrig explore particularly well.

"I constantly spend my life saying 'I am from Burghead but don't live there right now'. What is my identity, am I urban or rural? Where do you belong if you are from somewhere and you have left?

"Glenbeg is a little bit of everywhere."

For Morna, it was a special moment to see a musical she has written, staged at Eden Court.

"The Fishermen's Mission used to run a bus for us to come from Burghead every Christmas to see the panto here. It feels a bit the same for Kenneth (Set designer) and Caitlin (Fiona), who were both ushers here."

After two years where live theatre was in cold storage, Morna said it has been great to get back to the stage and the chance to work with Runrig on the theme of homecoming was perfect.

Where now for The Stamping Ground?

Well, as Morna said, there are Runrig fans all over the world, so while there are no confirmed plans yet for for a wider tour, that may yet be a distinct possibility.

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