Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Big Picnic - Govan

I was lucky enough to see Bill Bryden's 'The Big Picnic' during its original run, in fact I came across the programme recently. It was quite a spectacle even though the pedant in me didn't like 'New Army' men being at Mons. However it was set on a truly epic scale; originally in a huge old shipyard engine shed and not a theatre. That allowed the production crew to build a section of trench and no man's land.

One scene particularly stands out in my mind from near the end of the play. An islander who enlisted in Glasgow sings the 23rd Psalm in Gaelic. It was one of those moments when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

A theatre company made up of young Glasgow students called Shoogalie Road chose 'The Big Picnic' as their first big show and put it on for the first time in seventeen years. They also went back to Govan to put it on.

Unfortunately the show has been and gone, it was on the 7th and 8th September, so we can't plug it. Instead we'll publish the very favourable review that they got in 'The Scotsman' here

By Joyce McMillan. Date: 10 September 2011

REID Kerr College, Langside College, Telford, Coatbridge, and the University of the West of Scotland: recession or no recession, Scotland's colleges keep churning out students with a burning interest in theatre, and a determination to build careers for themselves.

To judge by their latest production at the Pearce Institute in Govan, though, the new Glasgow company known as Shoogalie Road must be one of the most ambitious graduate groups in Scotland, in that they've chosen, with the consent, support and first-night presence of the playwright himself, to tackle Bill Bryden's huge 1994 epic The Big Picnic. The play tells the story of a group of nine working-class Govan men who join Glasgow's famous Highland Light Infantry at the outset of the First World War, and are plunged into the hell of the trenches. It also keeps an eye on the story of their wives and womenfolk, trying to keep the home fires burning back in Glasgow; and it remains a well-researched and moving, if slightly predictable, slice of Glasgow working-class history, which resonates powerfully in the local setting of the Pearce, a focal point of the Govan community since 1906.

Directed by Jemima Sinclair and Liam Lambie – who also adapted the text – this young production of Bryden's play is never flawless; all of the actors have a tendency to lose control of their voices in moments of high emotion, and there is too much aimless shouting. At its best, though, it combines some impressive acting with a fine soundscape, and an outstanding grasp of how to use a large cast – there are 17 on stage – to create memorable stage pictures; and although there are some theatrical events in Scotland this week which achieve a higher professional polish, there are few driven by such an urgency to tell a tale which should never be forgotten, and by such a powerful emerging sense of theatrical poetry, in telling it.


  1. Hi, I am one of the directors & producer of The Big Picnic that you have talked about, and I am so sorry you missed it ! We will be back soon with the show again & hope to do a longer tour. To keep posted on our tour dates please join us on our FB page
    Thank you for also reporting the review from The scotsman ! : ) Hope to see you at the next show !
    Kind regards
    Jemima Sinclair

  2. Jemima

    I'm sorry I missed this when you posted it. Great to see there will be more shows.

    Break a leg etc.