David Hayman in Peebles

This year he shows once more that he is equally at home on stage, with his return as everyman Bob Cunninghame in Fair Pley’s latest production, Time’s Plague, a fine showcase of his versatility. Having planned to walk the West Highland Way with his pals, Bob instead finds himself stuck in a hospital bed, about to undergo a risky operation that he is convinced will see him off. So, he walks the fabled route in his mind, ranting about the injustice and state of the world as he goes. Charming and cantankerous in equal measure, he really has just one wish: for his voice to be heard. David Hayman appears in Time’s Plague at the Eastgate Theatre, Peebles – 7.30pm, Thurs 8 Sept.

Relive the Battle of Mt Ventoux

Cycling fans are in for a treat at the Eastgate Theatre on 16 Sept when 2Magpies Theatre tours its production of Ventoux – a dramatic retelling of one of the most memorable stage races in the history of the Tour de France.

Star Turns This July

Almost three years since they last toured, The Unthanks – Tyneside sisters Rachel and Becky together with their band – return to Peebles on 7 July with a new record and a stunning back catalogue of tracks.

It’s traditional folk music, but not really; the arrangements and writing of composer, pianist and producer Adrian McNally switch and flow effortlessly to encompass jazz, classical, ambient and post-rock. As Elvis Costello once commented, “They run from the very root of folk music to the very tip of the branch”.

The same could perhaps also be said of James Yorkston, a master musician who will both perform and present his latest Tae Sup wi’ a Fifer club night on 24 July.

The Eastgate is one of only four venues in the country selected for this latest Tae Sup. And the line-up is as imaginative as ever with music from Brìghde Chaimbeul and Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys, plus poetry and more from renowned performance poet Salena Godden.

“With Tae Sup wi’ a Fifer, I just try and mix things up, keeping the line-ups interesting, not one particular genre or theme to a night,” explained Yorkston. “A lot of the people I ask to play are friends who I’ve known for years, or just people I’ve met on the road whose music has taken to me. When programming Tae Sup, I just think ‘who would I like to see?’ and work from there.”

The stellar trio of performances is topped off by Ralph Fiennes who leads an exceptional cast in the National Theatre’s Straight Line Crazy (15 July), directed by Nicholas Hytner. The play is a blazing portrait of Robert Moses, a visionary but aggressive urban planner whose hand shaped much of metropolitan New York.

For 40 uninterrupted years, he was the most powerful man in the city, manipulating those elected to office through a mix of guile, charm and intimidation. It is both an intriguing true story and an electrifying deconstruction of the nature of power and democracy.

For tickets for The Unthanks, Tae Sup wi’ a Fifer, Straight Line Crazy and many other performances in July, call Box Office on 01721 725777, or go online at eastgatearts.com

Seeking Soul and Salt Spray

A senior lecturer in modern history at the University of Birmingham, David describes himself as “a writer, historian, sea kayaker and human seal”. Most recently, in a marriage of professional and personal interests, he has worked on the histories of coastlines, oceans and the communities that rely on them – exploring the past by ‘doing’ as well as researching.

Such an approach saw David spend a year kayaking the Atlantic coastlines from Shetland to Cornwall, travelling slowly and close to the water as a means of connecting with the natural world and the histories of the coastal communities he passed. “I spent as much time in coastal archives as in the boat, gathering stories and learning what Britain and Ireland look like with oceanic geographies at the centre,” he explains.

The resulting book, The Frayed Atlantic Edge – an evocative intertwining of storytelling, ecology, history and poetry – became a joint winner of the Highland Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing.

David is now travelling further afield for a new book project, called Afloat, that uses traditions of boat building and travel by small boat alongside the folklore of coastal communities to explore the ocean-going cultures of the North Atlantic.

Its chapters cover South Connemara and Fair Isle, then regions of Faroe, Greenland, Newfoundland, Maine, the Carolinas and the Caribbean to form an arc from the northeast end of the Gulf Stream to its origins 5,000 miles to the southwest.

“There’s something uniquely evocative about tiny boats afloat on oceans,” believes David. “Despite their fragility, these small shells of wood, seal skin, cow hide or canvas can cross vast seas in any weather. In isolating their occupants amid the mightiest forces on the planet they reveal humanity at its smallest and most delicate.

“They immerse humans in the wild worlds of whales, sharks and shoals that are, despite their size and charisma, among the least understood species on our planet. They spell adventure and exploration – but also risk and hardship – on exceptional scales.”

Back on dry land for one weekend, David appears at the Peebles Outdoor Film Festival between boat journeys in the Faroes and Greenland to present Atlantic Journeys (7.30pm, Sat 18 June) – a magical weaving together of stories and images that explore people, place, ecology, adventure and history. For tickets, call Box Office on 01721 725777, or go online eastgatearts.com

Music to make the Ears Glad

First to appear are Flook, an Anglo-Irish four-piece who, pre-pandemic, made a tour de force return to recording following almost a decade and a half out of the studio. The band first rose to stardom in the early 2000s and then, following their recording hiatus, returned with a triumphant new album in 2019.

With the flutes and whistles of Brian Finnegan and Sarah Allen, the guitar of Ed Boyd and the bodhran of John Joe Kelly, this iconic band weaves and spins traditionally rooted tunes into an enthralling sound – with agile but tight rhythms and virtuoso improvisation.

“Way back in 2005, when we released our third studio album, little did we know that it would be our last for almost a decade and a half,” said Finnegan. “We took a break but when Flook came calling again the voltage returned and, like all deep friendships, it felt like we’d never been apart.

“Part of the decision to re-group was the understanding that we had much left to say as a band, and a certain responsibility to our loyal fans, old and new, to create Flook music of the present, rich in both past and future.”

Different again are the soulful, stirring performances of Penicuik-born Siobhan Miller, who returns to the Eastgate as a multiple winner of Scots Singer of the Year at the BBC Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.

Alongside her solo ventures, Siobhan’s exquisite, velvety-smooth vocal style has been honed during extensive tours with her own band, as well as guest appearances with the National Theatre of Scotland, a season on Broadway and on US/UK TV drama Outlander.

Now based in Glasgow, she is a regular at the city’s Celtic Connections festival and returned as part of a star-studded Transatlantic Sessions line up earlier this year.

Flook play the Eastgate Theatre at 7.30pm on Sat 30 April, while Siobhan Miller appears at 7.30pm on Wed 11 May. Tickets available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online at eastgatearts.com

Peebles Hosts International Film Festival

Held at the Eastgate Theatre from 19 to 24 April, with party nights at Peebles Hydro and elsewhere in town, this brand-new event is the sister festival to the celebrated Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema in California.

Peebles will welcome more than 60 filmmakers from around the world, all eager to share their work with new audiences. Films range from full-length features to shorts, animation and documentaries covering every possible genre.

Presented by Festival Director and Scottish actress Mhairi Calvey alongside a team that includes Peebles-based actress and writer Vivien Reid, the official programme has been selected by a Grand Jury comprised of Oscar- and BAFTA-nominated stars such as Shauna Macdonald (The Descent), Angus MacFadyen (Braveheart) and Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction).

The festival opens on Tues 19 April (12pm) with a screening of Dark Encounter, a haunting and cerebral spin on the alien abduction story, followed by a Q&A with US director Carl Strathie. The closing film, on Sat 23 April (5.45pm), is Cleanin’ up the Town – a fascinating look into the making of the original Ghostbusters, with never-before-seen interviews with the film’s cast, and a Q&A with director Anthony Bueno.

In between, the festival features almost 50 films, including some homegrown productions such as award-winning filmmaker Uisdean Murray’s Mara: The Seal Wife – a searing drama inspired by selkie folklore and filmed entirely in the Western Isles.

The festival also sees a range of themed seminars plus a special film history event: a full screening of the Warner Brothers’ classic Casablanca, with an introduction and Q&A by film director, Paramount Studios staff writer and film historian, Stephen Savage.

“Independent filmmaking has brought the most wonderful opportunities to me as an actress and to now be able to give back to the filmmaking community by bringing together so much extraordinary talent is a dream come true,” commented Mhairi Calvey.

“I am in awe of the films that have been submitted to us in this, our inaugural year, allowing the festival to start with a bang and inspire future generations of film creatives.”

The Scotland International Festival of Cinema opens at 12pm on Tues 19 April and ends with a glittering Gala Awards ceremony at the Eastgate Theatre on Sun 24 April.

For full programme details, visit www.scotlandifc.com and for tickets call Box Office on 01721 725777 or visit www.eastgatearts.com

Fantasy Epic Comes to the Stage

 

Shown on the big screen at the Eastgate Theatre on Fri 1 April, The Book of Dust is set 12 years before Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

And this gripping adaptation is no less epic as it revisits a fantastical word in which waters are rising and storms are brewing. At its centre are two young people and their dæmons who harbour a tiny child called Lyra Belacqua – little more than a newborn but who nonetheless holds the future of the world in her hands.

As the waters rise around them, powerful adversaries conspire for mastery of Dust: salvation to some, the source of infinite corruption to others.

Adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery and directed Nicholas Hytner, this remarkable production features spectacular staging, costumes and exquisite dæmon puppetry – from kingfishers to badgers, lemurs and more.

The Book of Dust screens 7pm, Fri 1 April. Tickets £17, £10, available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online.

Food for the Body, Mind and Spirit

Originally a joint initiative between Scottish Ballet and Dancebase, the weekly Dance for Parkinson’s (DfP) sessions have proved immensely popular since their launch in 2019.

More than 20 people from the local area attend each week, to enjoy live music and a range of seated and standing dance that help develop confidence and creativity. The sessions also address concerns around balance, mobility, coordination and social isolation – with tea and cakes and the chance for a chat a key part of every session.

Much missed during a lengthy postponement due to Covid, the DfP sessions resumed at the theatre in autumn 2021. “I have been coming since the very beginning and the classes had become an important part of my life,” commented John, who attends with his partner, Co.

“It’s not just the physical movement which I enjoy, but also the enthusiasm of those who run the classes. They push you, but only to do what you feel you can do.”

Although designed for people living with Parkinson’s, others who feel they may benefit are also welcomed. While Co initially came in a caring capacity, she is also now feeling less than 100% and gets a huge amount out of the sessions. “It’s the exercise, the movement and the live music,” she commented. “There are lots of different elements – I love it.”

Another regular is Gina, who suffers from arthritis. “When the classes started up, I explained that I didn’t actually have Parkinson’s and was told that I would be very welcome,” she said. “I’m on my own, so it’s very social and we all seem to gel. No-one worries about what they look like, we are too busy enjoying ourselves.”

And it’s not just inhibitions that are left at the door each week. “Once inside the room, you no longer feel like you have an illness,” commented John. “It’s a total mind and body cure.”

Currently on a mid-term break, the next DfP sessions resume on Thursday 28 April and run weekly until the end of June. The sessions are part of a wider health and wellbeing programme at the Eastgate that also includes Memory Lane Music, a cheerful hour of music and song each week for those living with dementia, run by Nomad Beat, Peebles Community Music School.

And as part of Scottish Mental Health Awareness week, this year’s Inspiring Life event includes an extended programme of events running from Wednesday 18 – Saturday 21 May each one designed to give much needed energy for the body, mind and spirit.

Trees inspire Tunes

This is music that takes inspiration from, and celebrates, the forests and woodlands of Scotland – in particular the Grantown area where he grew up.  Album tracks include The atmospheric opening The Pioneer, The Wildfire, a musical warning against very current disasters and The Tree of Life/The Tree of Lightning and The Capercaillie Rant/An Taghan two energetic tin whistle and pipe duets enveloped in rich and dynamic arrangements.

Hamish is joined on stage by Patsy Reid on fiddle and Innes Watson on guitar and viola.  Join them for an exciting and immersive musical adventure.

Tickets for Hamish Napier: The Woods are available now from the Eastgate Theatre box office: 01721 725777 or www.eastgatearts.com

Playing it for Laughs

Best known for his acutely observed character comedy, including playing Scot Squad’s lunatic Chief Commissioner Cameron Miekelson, the play instead sees Docherty explore material that is a little closer to him. It is a tender, playful, darkly comic tale, in which he grapples with lost youth, infatuation, fatherhood, sex, secrets and truth.

“Half the fun of the show is imagining the audience thinking ‘this can’t be true, can it?’,” he explained. “And I never let on what’s true and what’s not. I mined my past but fictionalised it. Put it this way, I’m playing ‘me’.”

Described as a love letter to Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and summer rain, Nothing But enjoyed a sell-out run at last year’s Fringe, resonating deeply with audiences.

“I was so pleased it worked well – probably the best reviewed show I’ve ever done,” reflected Jack. “I loved the feeling when the audience fell quiet in the serious bits. I felt like a proper actor!”

And the play continues to touch a nerve now that Docherty has taken it on tour. “At heart, it’s a rom-com, a ‘what might have been’ story and we all have a ‘what if’ in our lives, some relationship that didn’t work out,” he explained. “And then it becomes more a story about a father/daughter relationship, and all of us has family. So, it’s a pretty universal tale.”

It’s also an experimentation that audiences can expect more of from one of Scotland’s most popular comic performers. “I’m always looking for the next challenge; something I haven’t done before and a comedy with serious bits fits the bill. It doesn’t mean I’m leaving behind the character comedy. I’m just mixing it up.”

Material that is a little more introspective feels like it might have been a lockdown project but it actually pre-dated the pandemic. Docherty was originally going to perform it in 2020, having worked on the play while out in Australia visiting his brother-in-law.

Then the pandemic hit and all plans changed. “I managed to get the last flight out of Sydney, otherwise I might be there to this day playing Chief Commissioner Bruce Miekelson of the Unified Australian Police Force,” smiled Jack.

“But I wrote it in lockdown and it did influence the nostalgic tone of the piece. We all believe in better days that have come before.”

Jack Docherty appears at the Eastgate Theatre in Nothing But, 7.30pm, Thurs 17 March. Tickets £15, £13, available from Box Office on 01721 725777, or online.