Pitlochry Festival theatre already has a claim to be the most beautifully situated in the country. Now, with the advent of an outdoor amphitheatre deep in the neighbouring gardens, it has one of the most idyllic stages.
The amphitheatre is a perfect fit for the theatrical premiere of David Greig’s two-hander, set 20 miles along the Tay in Kenmore. Here, a Roman officer is held captive by a local witch from the self-styled “salmon people”. The colonisers’ contention that Caledonia is “barren” seems all the more ignorant as we sit in this verdant treescape.
The sense of nature extends to the sand and flames of director Elizabeth Newman’s circular stage. An open playing space, it has the elemental appeal of a Peter Brook set and cleverly reveals archaeological secrets as the collision of cultures takes hold. Like the wooden amphitheatre itself, it feels like part of the scenery.
Although set 2,000 years ago, this is a play about modernity. With his imported olives and underfloor heating, Nicholas Karimi’s Lucius could be the voice of hi-tech consumerism. He sells convenience, comfort and luxury.
And yet the characer we warm to is not this Roman, with his insipid poetry and spineless battle technique, but Eithne, played by Kirsty Stuart. Witty and liberated, she stands for nature, instinct and spontaneity, her Dionysian energy shaming his Apollonian restraint.
With her faith in dreams and her ancient knowledge of herbs, she favours the squiggly path of a river to the regimented lines of a Roman road. Even so, her lively mind makes her curious about such innovations. She quite fancies herself as a Roman.
Indeed, there is much more to Greig’s play than a crude head-versus-heart battle. Rather, in Newman’s lucid production, their relationship is a negotiation, a romantic encounter of give and take between town and country.
Neither is wholly satisfied with their lot. Lucius eulogises the Roman communication network even as he laments his place as an insignificant apparatchik. Eithne celebrates the virility of her culture despite the energy she must put into keeping herself safe from her fellow tribesmen. Their union is not inevitable, but hard earned and all the more satisfying for it.