“A blend of culture-clash comedy-drama, and uncanny tale, it’s a tongue-twisting crowd pleaser…” – Martin Travers’ ‘Secret Wrapped in Lead’ is a fine addition to the Scots theatre canon.
📍 Loaningdale Arts, Biggar
📅 Friday 21 July 2023
🕖 Tour continues until: 29 July 2023
🕖 Running time: 55 minutes
✏️ Writer: Martin Travers
🎬 Director: Pauline Lynch
🪡 Costume Designer: Hazel Henderson
🎼 Sound Designer & Composer: Jack Henderson
🎂 Parental Discretion
🎭 Vary by venue – check listings for details
Inspired by the diaries of Dorothy Wordsworth, penned during a recuperative visit to Lanarkshire in 1803, Martin Travers new play, ‘Secret Wrapped in Lead” premieres amidst the village halls of Clydesdale and southern Scotland this July. Produced by Scots language champions Braw Clan, this is a compact play for three performers, with a runtime of 55 minutes. A blend of culture-clash comedy-drama, and uncanny tale, it’s a tongue-twisting crowd pleaser and a fine addition to the limited canon of Scots-language theatre.
The premise is simple. Dorothy Wordsworth, brother William, and the melancholic Samuel Taylor Coleridge, are on tour in rural Scotland, and in need of a place to bed down. Refusing exposure to the carnal temptations of the local inn, the trio arrive at one Mrs. Otto’s door, assured by locals that she has rooms for board – and an upright character. Travers casts the Dorothy (Helen McAlpine) as the group’s principal negotiator, her companions heard only briefly in the play’s opening moments, thanks to recorded performances from Robin Laing, and Anthony Bowers. It is she who deals with the thorny Mrs. Otto (Fletcher Mathers), and her mercurial daughter Primrose (Morven Blackadder), negotiating bed, board, and some answers to questions regarding the queerer aspects of local life.
There’s a continuously sparking chemistry between McAlpine and Mathers, fuelling both comedy and conflict between the erudite Englishwoman, and the outspoken Scots-speaker. It offers a richness of language, the two tongues not so much colliding as intertwining to create a nuanced, clever tapestry. Primrose straddles both worlds, an ardent fan of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with affection for her homeland, if not its conservative ideas. It’s she who’s willing to let Dorothy in on a few local secrets, if only Miss. Wordsworth will return her overdue library book.
Indeed, under Director Pauline Lynch’s sure hand, such is the quality, and delivery of dialogue, that Travers is able to gather the pieces of his secondary plot unnoticed. Instead the audience is wrapped in Dorothy’s investigations into the misery of the lead poisoning or ‘Mill-Reek’ blighting the lives of local miners. Mrs. Otto, she is sure, is holding a relevant secret, and it has something to do with an apparent endemic of vicious Hoolets (that’s Owls in English). McAlpine is excellent in the lead, projecting a strength of character sufficient to match Mathers’ grand and bristling power. Blackadder could easily be lost between the two, but finds enough of her inner-Ophelia to hold her own.
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Overall there’s an elegant simplicity to both play, and production, and a love of language which never falls into infatuation. The lingual acrobatics are also never allowed to become the story, only a means to tell it. Though that tale is ultimately a tall one, it is grounded firmly in the true history of the South Lanarkshire hills, and the hard lives of mining communities at the turn of the 18th century. Further, though I am fluent in Scots, Mathers’ dynamic performance coupled to a clever text should make all the most obscure phrases accessible to the English speaker.
The production would benefit from a greater sense of mystery in earlier scenes, trusting to its cast, and the text to wrong-foot the audience, but ultimately, ‘Secret Wrapped in Lead’ builds to a fine, and satisfactory conclusion. Here’s hoping Braw Clan will bless the northern reaches of the Saltire nation with a visit before long.
Secret Wrapped in Lead is a Braw Clan production.