King's Theatre, Glasgow
13 June 2023
The Stamping Ground is a new stage musical featuring the hits of iconic Scottish folk-rock band, Runrig. Co-produced by the brilliant Scottish producing house Raw Material Arts and Eden Court Theatre Highlands, the show first premiered in Inverness in July 2022.
As a native Scot, it may be shameful to admit that I'm not familiar with Runrig's back catalogue. I do however love to see new writing come to our theatres and to hear stories that originate from Scottish culture, and so I purchased my tickets for this as soon as they went on sale. It won't be the first time I've gone into a juke-box musical blind and I'm a huge fan of award-winning writer Morna Young's work.
So what's 'The Stamping Ground' all about then?
"A heart-soaring musical about love, life and the land, The Stamping Ground follows the story of Euan and Annie, who return to their rural Scottish community after years away seeking a fresh start with their teenage daughter. But there’s a heatwave in the Highlands and they soon find themselves lost in this once familiar place, now filled with more tourists than residents."
At the heart of the plot is the threat that the local West Highland community may loose their lands and their beloved pub to overseas investors. I can't help but compare this with classic film, Local Hero. Here it's a Canadian who arrives in the village as opposed to an American, but he faces much the same challenges.
I saw another new stage musical very recently where a small, remote community, at risk of loosing their local pub, come together through adversity, and learn that the people are the heart of the community, not the buildings after all...
That musical was the really rather special Fisherman's Friends, and unfortunately for The Stamping Ground, I found that production to have the better songs, better book, better production. It's more colourful and lively, with a wider appeal. It really pains me to say that as I am supporter of the Scottish arts through and through, but on this occasion, in the battle of the 'save our pub' shows, the Cornish Fishermen win hands (nets) down.
The score for The Stamping Ground is entirely composed of Runrig songs and although the music is well performed by the onstage band and cast, it wasn't really my cup-of-tea. There were however two or three songs that caught my attention and that had my toes-tapping, the title track included. I did enjoy that some of the tracks transitioned into Gaelic; it's such a beautiful language that lends itself well to the musical format.
The standout vocal performance came from Naomi Stirrat as Summer. She has such a lovely tone to her voice and you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium every time she sang.
I do think The Stamping Ground leans more towards the 'play with music' genre as opposed to a musical. There are a number of intertwining stories and threads with a good amount of well-written dialogue between songs, and as pleasant as they were, I didn't necessarily feel that the songs progressed the plot. I enjoyed the non-singing parts more than the singing parts in this show and that it very unusual for me.
Partly this is down to the outstanding performance from Juliet Cadzow as Maggie. A brilliant character, Maggie had all the best lines and most of the laugh-out-loud moments in the show. All the scenes where Maggie is casually chatting with someone in the house or in the pub are golden. Juliet Cadzow is a magnificent performer with superb comic timing. I want to be her friend and neighbour please! I'll even supply the vodka.
The script would benefit from more of these moments of playfulness. The other characters and storylines, and dare I say songs, are all a little dour. I was however really invested in the Johnny and Mary storyline: Annie Grace is wonderfully authentic as Mary and I was absolutely rooting for her to have her 'happy ever after'.
The set by Kenneth MacLeod is striking with a large rocky crag as the backdrop and a round central stage as the focal point. It's wild and magical, and beautifully lit by Simon Wilkinson. There are some stunning optics as a result and the production photos by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan are some of the finest I've ever seen.
Inevitably The Stamping Ground closes with a thumping rendition of Runrig's unofficial anthem, Loch Lomond. It's always a great idea to end a show with the audience on their feet, stamping and clapping, and Loch Lomond is sure to achieve that.
On the whole, The Stamping Ground is a gentle, pleasant way to spend a few hours in the theatre. It raises real issues such as the influx of tourists to small highland communities and the struggles that local people face to hold on to their lands and to protect their heritage. It's also fantastic to hear the Gaelic language used throughout the production.
I do wonder how much of a life and how broad of an appeal this production will have in future though. It's perhaps telling that the current tour dates are all in Scotland. Sadly I don't think it will be as popular with audiences further afield. The seven venues on the Scottish tour are all sizeable theatres though, so it's a laudable achievement to have brought it so far. Having already won 'Best Music and Sound' at the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland 2022, it already has a pedigree to be proud of.
Please go support the (mainly!) Scottish cast and creatives at a venue near you and make up your own mind. I'd love to know what you think!
The Stamping Ground plays at the King’s Theatre Glasgow from Tuesday 13 June to Saturday 17 June 2023 and then closes the tour at Perth Concert Hall from 21 to 24 June.
🎟️Glasgow info and tickets: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-stamping-ground/kings-theatre-glasgow/
🎟️Perth info and tickets:
📸 Production Photos: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
*Full disclosure: I was offered a comp ticket to review this show, but as I already had tickets (purchased some time ago!), I did not accept them. I have not marked this post as an AD for that reason, but I do work with ATG Glasgow to promote and support their shows. Whether I am invited or not has absolutely no impact on my reviews or star ratings!
Running Time: 2hr 30 mins (inc interval)
🌟 A review of The Stamping Ground, Runrig musical tour, at The King's Theatre Glasgow, June 2023 🌟
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