BOOK FESTIVAL: Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend 2: A review of the festival's opening event – community play The Riot Of Resolis
REVIEW: The Riot Of Resolis: A play in two acts
(part of the Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend)
Victoria Hall, Cromarty
The first event of this year’s Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend was evidence of the weekend’s constant evolution.
The one-time murder mystery plays regularly presented alongside an opening night dinner has this year grown into an ingenious full-length play celebrating a crime in the area’s own history – The Riot Of Resolis.
It had an important message about community and getting together to fight for your rights, all in a bid to restore justice to the area, something it shares with the best crime novels.
Former theatre director Jon Palmer had been inspired by real-life history from 1843, though with lockdown, it had taken him a couple of years of waiting to direct and produce The Riot Of Resolis for his audience at Cromarty Crime & Thrillers Weekend.
In a nutshell, this was the time of the “Disruption”, when Church of Scotland congregations wanted to choose their own ministers and not have the gentry impose one on them. And they were prepared to fight for that freedom. As part of the protest, a woman who was locked up overnight in Cromarty Courthouse was broken out by locals. In the play, the background to how the riot happened unfolds as a Canadian journalist investigates and looks back into the evidence he needs to write a story about what happened.
It was thanks to Jon Palmer’s friend, Joke Menssink, that in the play the main characters are represented by lifesize puppets, what they say having been previously recorded using local voices.
The journalist Jim/Ewan Fraser is voiced by the late Mike Schroeder and in the programme it reads: “This performance is dedicated to Mike Schroeder. A man whose creative talents and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed.”
As Jon Palmer told the audience beforehand: “The voices were recorded more than two years ago. It is poignant to have Mike as part of the play. I spoke to him a few weeks ago and he was pleased that the play would now go on.”
One lot of people had made the puppets which had large expressive papier-mache heads, while another performed and acted as puppeteers during the performance. Live music was played by three musicians, of whom Marjorie Paterson had written original music for them to play throughout the two-part play.
And though there were a lot of names to absorb and keep track of as the events of September 1843 played out, the characters of the different puppets quickly began to establish themselves.
The puppeteers held their puppet high in front of them, using their own arm to allow the character – such as the bossy Lady Isabella Fraser (Antonia Fraser), to gesture and point with an air of authority.
The play was presented in the Victoria Hall ‘in the round’. The audience sat on either side of a central rectangle of space. At one end, a screen hid the entrance and exit point for the puppets and at the other, the character, journalist Ewan Fraser wearing a newspaper mask, sat at his desk. The musicians were placed beside him but almost out of sight for the audience at the door end of the hall.
The traditional-sounding music and the historic costumes as worn in the North of Scotland all added a sense of place. And the play itself created drama, descriptions by the puppet witnesses of the violence and unrest unfolding, ramping up a real sense of what it was like to be there.
There was also a clever use of Inverness Courier pages, in place of ones from the past, the play used the section featuring Jon Palmer and the puppets, publicising the play itself!
Lady Isabella’s maid Annie (Rachel Matheson) was asked for her recollection of the start of the trouble and powerfully set the scene.
“There was a kind of hush in the woods, even the birds were holding their breath. I heard there had been some plotting,” she said.
And the audience got to see for themselves the way the truth was tweaked – as the official number in the mob was adjusted by those in charge. And the journalist shared his suspicion, after asking his own questions, that “their recollections had an air of being rehearsed…”.
But Jon Palmer’s play never let you forget that this incident – people standing up for their own freedoms and beliefs – hadn’t been that long ago.
As he quoted from a poem before the play started: “We oft may see our futures in the verses of our past. Take note, for when it’s over … we will have a wiser head at least”.
And as a postscript to the events of 1843 – when the Irish Fusiliers were sent North to round up and punish the rioters, how they could, and the play informs the audience that a family in Rosskeen had their roof torn off for not joining the Free Church – Jon Palmer’s play fast forwards to more recent times when Ross-shire residents are still standing up for what they believe in.
The roll call included – 1943 Jemimaville harbouring a deserter; 2002 Donnie Macleod of Ardersier protesting at the planting of GM crops; 2019 a Munlochy woman occupying an oil platform in the Cromarty Firth to protest against drilling.
It’s a QnA worth discussing after the play, perhaps, when it goes on the hoped-for further dates across the area, hopefully later this year.
It’s a play worth seeing, both to remember our past, but also to work out the future we want – and just how far we will go to support the important things we believe in. MC