Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Witness to Rebellion; John Maclean’s Journal of the ’Forty-Five and the Penicuik Drawings.

Today, I am finishing off the design and layout of the new edition of 'Witness to Rebellion; John Maclean’s Journal of the ’Forty-Five and the Penicuik Drawings.

It has been a fairly arduous process, for although I designed the first edition back in 1996, recovering and assembling the old digital files has proven difficult (the first printer having gone out of business). It would indeed have been easier to start again from scratch. Still, it is almost done now and is looking very handsome (if I do say so myself).

The Journal of John Maclean is the first-hand account of the experiences of an officer of Prince Charles Edward’s army from August 1745, through Prestonpans and the taking of Edinburgh, the march into England to Derby, the withdrawal to Scotland and the final retreat to Drummossie Moor near Inverness, where Maclean was killed in the Battle of Culloden. It is the most poignant telling of the events of the '45 rebellion that I have come across.

I addition, a remarkable series of drawings from the Clerk Collection at Penicuik House offers a unique view of the participants on both sides of the ’Forty-Five: a Rising for some, for others a Rebellion. No other comparable collection of images is known. These sketches were made in part as a factual record, but more so as an exercise in caricature, perhaps as a diversion from the very real dangers and disasters of the time. The result is an insight on the ’Forty-Five that is both telling and humorous.


Thursday, 6 May 2010

Putting on the glad rags. . .

A chance to pull out the old frock, give it dust down and hit the town with the very cream of Edinburgh society. The occasion? The UK premiere of Okavango Macbeth, an opera written by one of the world’s most popular authors, Alexander McCall Smith and the Edinburgh composer, Tom Cunningham. The hour-long performance of the opera was part of a glittering fund-raiser for Save the Children, held in the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. And raise funds it certainly did. The evening was a magnificent occasion from the early evening champagne reception, sponsored by Moet & Chandon, through the opera and dinner, to a charity auction finishing off the night.

The opera, The Okavango Macbeth, is set in Botswana. Alexander was keen to write an opera set in that beautiful country and wanted to create opportunities for local singers there. He created the Okavango Macbeth after reading a book entitled Baboon Metaphysics and  a chance meeting with its author, a primatologist in the Okavango Delta. He observed that Baboon society has strong female figures and it occurred to him that this was the perfect  setting for the plot of the famous Shakespearean  tragedy.

So last night, soloists from Glasgow’s Royal Academy of Music and Drama and a chorus from Edinburgh Studio Opera, took to the floor and entertained the audience of 250 with a moving  performance. The energy of individual members of the cast was quite astonishing and the entire performance a celebration of nature. Nicholas Ellengbogen, one of the world’s most distinguished theatre producers, had transformed the Dovecot Studios (an old victorian swimming pool, now refurbished as a beautiful gallery and performance space – well worth a visit) with minimal staging and the performers took on the roles of animals with a great deal of grace and good humour.

After the performance, the standing ovation and a lavish dinner, I have to confess that I sat on my hands as I watched thousands of pounds being raised through bids at the charity auction. Lots which included a silver sculpture inspired by the opera and created by the renowned artist Patrick Mavros, a childhood friend of Alexander’s; a week behind the scenes with Bonhams in London or Edinburgh; a week in a chalet in Verbier and many other top notch gems – raised almost £40k. All just a little beyond my credit card but fascinating to watch.

What an opportunity, to be at the first UK performance of such a piece. An opportunity for which I will always be grateful.