Scottish folksongs meet 17th century feminism in new musical

Rehearsals of the show at the Macrobert center

It took five years to prepare, covers 400 years of history and travels from 17th century Stirling to 21st century New York, via Ulster and Appalachia. And now he’s about to have his moment.

The world premiere of a new Scottish musical will take place at the Macrobert Arts Center in Stirling next February.

Fusing traditional Scottish folk tunes with contemporary songs, and featuring a West End cast and an all-female band on stage, A Mother’s Song will tell the story of four women across four centuries.

Created by Scottish composer Finn Anderson and award-winning director Tania Azevedo, best known for her work on the musical West End & Juliet, the new musical will explore female agency, or lack thereof, pregnancy, motherhood and sexuality throughout the ages.

“We see so many stories about families and what has been passed down from generation to generation,” Azevedo told the Herald. “And I think we don’t always take into account the sacrifices and the choice, or the little choice, that the people who came before us had to create these families.”

A Mother’s Song, she said, explores the desire to leave a legacy behind and what that might look like. “At its heart, the piece’s message is to honor the work and life of your ancestors, while being brave and empowered enough to forge your own path.”

Anderson, whose last musical Islander moved to London and played on Broadway in New York, began work on A Mother’s Song in 2017.

It tells the story of Sarah who is in a same-sex relationship in New York and has moved away from the folk traditions she grew up with. But when she rediscovers the traditional songs of her childhood, she finds herself learning more about her ancestry in Ulster and Scotland and begins to reassess her past and present.

Anderson said one of the reasons he wanted to use traditional songs and tunes such as The Four Marys in the musical was to ask the question, who can sing those songs?

“It’s very hard to go back to the mainstream canon and find songs about same-sex relationships or find songs about people who weren’t from those dominant cultures at the time.

“And so giving permission to a contemporary gay character to sing these traditional songs feels important to me.”

A Mother’s Song comes on the heels of the National Theater of Scotland’s musical version of Peter Mullan’s film Orphans earlier this year and the Proclaimers’ jukebox musical Sunshine on Leith. But Anderson thinks there’s plenty of room for more.

“Scotland is still in its infancy in developing new musicals and still figuring out what Scottish musical theater looks like.

“There is still sometimes a strange snobbery around musicals. We have this rich tradition around very dramatic theatrical ballads that tell very dramatic stories through song. And we also have this incredible history of theatre.

“There have been other companies that have brought them together. But A Mother’s Song is probably about 80% songs, so we’re really embracing characters expressing themselves through music.

The songs from the musical were performed for the first time at the Macrobert Arts Center in Stirling last week.

A Mother’s Song also represents a significant moment for theatre. Aside from Macbob’s much-loved pantomimes, he’s best known for hosting touring shows. A Mother’s Song is therefore a sign of the venue’s ambition to host new works.

“It’s so important that Macrobert makes a contribution to the development of Scotland’s creative output,” said Julie Ellen, Artistic Director and CEO of Macbob, who took over in 2017.

“Since I arrived here, there has been a push towards more support for artists. We cannot sit and wait for the golden egg to be laid. You need to step in early, nurture them, nurture them, and help those plans come to fruition.

A Mother’s Song will have its world premiere at Macrobert on February 21 and the creators hope it will go on tour afterwards. Anderson, for his part, thinks it couldn’t be more timely.

“I think looking at world music and traditions and how they have traveled shows us that the flow of people from one place to another is a positive thing. It always happened. It has always led to a fusion of cultures.

“It’s another part of the journey of the music. It’s not what our story is based on, but it’s when you listen to the music and how it has changed.

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