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Theatre Review: The Yellow on the Broom ***

Joy Watters reviews a production that 'takes a while to engage the audience'.

Dundee Rep opens the new season telling tales not far from home. Born into a traveller family in 1919, Betsy Whyte described her childhood roaming round Tayside with her family in her first memoir, which inspired Anne Downie to write the play.

Designer Kenneth MacLeod sets the scene, first placing the characters silhouetted against the lowering sky, like a storybook illustration with the darkness intimating the hardships that are to follow.

The Townsley family’s travels are dictated by the seasons, picking tatties and berries, selling baskets and anything else they can to scrape a living. When winter comes it’s time to hole up in a house in Brechin. Old Bessie (Ann Louise Ross) narrates while the rest of the cast, playing a host of characters, show what life was like for travellers in the 20s and 30s.

Andrew Panton’s production takes a while to engage the audience as the family encounters prejudice and also unexpected kindness from the people along the way.

There is a large amount of music and song that sometimes plays against the storytelling which lies at the heart of the work. John Kielty’s score has a traditional Celtic theme, but there are no fiddles or pipes so loved by the travelling community.

There are strong performances from Beth Marshall as Bessie’s mother and ensemble graduate Chiara Sparkes as young Bessie. Both capture the feistiness of traveller women and the dialect. Barrie Hunter livens the action playing a mad Laird who opens his home to the family in this tribute to a way of life that was vanishing.

The Yellow on the Broom at Dundee Rep until Saturday 22 September and Macrobert Centre, Stirling, 26-29 September.

Tags: theatre

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