An Appointment with the Wicker Man
Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic to become the play-within-the-play for new NTS production
‘There are many films that people would love to see adapted cleanly onto the stage,’ says Greg Hemphill, and if current trends are anything to go by, he looks to be right, ‘but when we discussed it with Vicky [Featherstone, National Theatre of Scotland director] right at the beginning of this process, we said The Wicker Man probably wouldn’t be one of them, because it’s all about that shocking ending.’
Instead, the Chewin’ the Fat writer and actor, alongside co-writer Donald McLeary, chose to make Robin Hardy’s 1973 masterpiece of creeping dread the play within their play. And their play, as it happens, tells of the Loch Parry Players and their own, somewhat shambolic stage version of the film, thrown into further disarray when their lead actor goes missing in strange circumstances.
While the idea of a remote community gone rogue may be a bit of a stretch in an age where even the Loch Parry Players techie is tweeting from rehearsals (@LochParryPlayer), Hemphill maintains that the story still has the power to unnerve, as the cast and crew discovered when re-watching the film in rehearsals. ‘It is very sexual, all that paganism and whatnot, so people were tittering all the way through, but in the last half-hour when Howie gets sent on his one-way journey, we were all sat there in total silence.’
Having re-injected a familiar story with a shot of mystery, the cast, led by Hemphill with Johnny McKnight and Jimmy Chisholm, are promising a fun-loving and tender homage to a film which Hemphill reckons has long since transcended the label of ‘cult’ to become ‘a bona fide classic’. And even if a classic film wasn’t quite what the National Theatre of Scotland’s detractors had in mind when they called for the company to stage more classics, they surely won’t be able to argue with its power to pull audiences to the theatre, as Hemphill attests. ‘The argument about what they’re doing is largely irrelevant, because their number one agenda is to bring people to the theatre and I think they’re doing that really, really successfully.’
Macrobert, Stirling, Sat 18 Feb; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 28 Feb–Sat 3 Mar and touring throughout Scotland.