The referendum has bombarded Scots with political nationalism: the kind of talk that follows a promise of freedom, social equality and democracy. Yet on the eve of this decision, the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) decided to put all politics aside and, as NTS executive producer Neil Murray proposed, have a day “purely of celebration of Scotland”; it was this idea that became the twelve-hour, live performance of Blabbermouth.
In the third of four three-hour-long sessions, the audience was offered an eclectic spectacle of Scotland’s history and culture. From traditional music to medieval poetry, historical letters to Julia Donaldson’s ‘The Gruffalo’ in Scots, Blabbermouth explored Scotland’s strong national identity.
Scotland’s music and distinguished humour were prominent throughout. The evening was opened with Blabbermouth curator Graham McLaren’s amusing performance of ‘The Wee Cock Sparra’. This was then followed by the distinct Gaelic harmonies of traditional Scottish folk songs, which beautifully echoed around the room.
Scotland’s history was also creatively incorporated, with significant figures in Scottish history being remembered. One particularly heartfelt moment was Lorraine McIntosh’s reading of Mary Queen of Scot’s last letter to her cousin, Elizabeth I, prior to her execution. Douglas Henshall’s reading of J.M. Barrie’s last letter from Captain Robert Scott, whose ideas of hope and courage and desire for something better cleverly reflected the underlying question that was on the minds of all who were present.
Despite their desire to simply savour Scotland’s culture, an undercurrent of politics was inevitably present. There were some performers who were more explicit than others in their views on the imminent vote and the word “freedom” was frequently used. Blabbermouth did not solely focus on the Scottish voice, including non-native perspectives of the debate. Michèle Lalonde’s ‘Speak White’, performed by two French Canadians, spoke of independence away from domination: an independence of celebration and unity. This was again captured perfectly by Glasgow Girl, Amal Azzudin in her performance of Evelyn Glennie’s ‘What Makes Us Human’. Azzudin focused on the word “compassion”: the human emotion that unites, rather than separates, us all. This poem, and indeed the evening, created a poignant, and even refreshing, outlook: the referendum, independent of the outcome, provides an opportunity for a true celebration of Scottish culture.
While Blabbermouth may not have been successful in focusing exclusively on cultural nationalism, it did achieve an expression of the undeniable force that is Scottish pride, felt not just by the performers, but also by the audience. Like the referendum, it was the people who claimed the principle focus of the evening. As the audience cheered, clapped and sang along to the entertainment, what became evident was the significant unity that Blabbermouth had exposed.