Like most arts organisations across the UK, Pitlochry Festival Theatre was affected by cuts and left in a vulnerable position after the former Scottish Arts Council axed its core funding. With over 60,000 people attending one or more shows each year, theatre staff had to make some quick decisions about where they were going to raise the additional £300,000 necessary each year to sustain its reputation for high-quality productions. In addition to a range of commercial opportunities, it has launched various initiatives to encourage the public to contribute to its financial upkeep, including a friends membership and the option to join the John Stewart Society.
Quality, fortunately, hasn’t suffered as a result of these unprecedented cuts. The theatre’s latest festive play, 'Scrooge – The Musical’, directed by Richard Baron, has received an outpouring of praise on social media and many performances have sold out. Philip Rham, who has appeared in the likes of 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ and 'Band of Brothers’, is outstanding as Scrooge, who spits with each syllable and scoffs at the audience.
There is a sense of community amongst the cast of around 30, many of whom regularly appear on stage together and play more than one character. Dougal Lee and Helen Logan, who played Jacob Marley and Mrs Pringle respectively in 'Scrooge’, are veteran performers at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, appearing in past performances such as 'Fearie Tales’ and 'A Little Night Music’.
The sense of intimacy in the theatre is also fostered by the fact that the seats at the back are close enough to the stage to read the actors’ expressions and note the intricacies of the set, produced by the theatre’s own in-house team. The orchestra, directed by Dougie Flower, who has held the position of répétiteur over several productions, including 'White Christmas’ and 'Miracle on 34th Street’, is also superb. Positioned behind the stage on a balcony, as opposed to in the pit beneath, the musicians are part of Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s unique identity in which all aspects of the performance rightly take their place on stage.
There was, however, a palpable age gap in the room. This is partly because a third of the population of Pitlochry are pensionable, and partly because fewer and fewer younger people are regular attendees of the theatre. Not by any means a criticism of the performance or an issue unique to Pitlochry, but a sad observation that could be made about theatre audiences across the UK. The age gap was intensified by an announcement made before the play began which invited the audience to 'switch off all mobile phones and pagers’. Startled, I scanned the room looking for anyone who was guilty of owning a pager in the 21st century.
In spite of the forces working against arts organisations in the UK, Pitlochry Festival Theatre is open 12 months of the year with an impressive programme lined up for 2017. John Stewart’s aspiration to unite people in the name of putting on a show is alive here, and his philanthropic spirit is echoed in the ethos of this festive production.
For more details click here
Not appearing at Pitlochry this season – they have a show of their own. Rachel's dogs Rocco and Blue.