Published: 27/10/2014 16:16 - Updated: 27/10/2014 16:32

Veterans show the way to new north talent

The cast of Never Land in rehearsal. Left to right: Fiona MacNeil (Peanut), Rebecca Wilkie, Benny Young, Ewan Petrie and Chris Beaton. Photo: Alison White.
The cast of Never Land in rehearsal. Left to right: Fiona MacNeil (Peanut), Rebecca Wilkie, Benny Young, Ewan Petrie and Chris Beaton. Photo: Alison White.

YOUNG acting talent from across the north of Scotland come a step closer to Hollywood with the latest drama production from Eden Court.

Never Land brings together up and coming talent from the north, including writer Morna Young from Burghead, winner of New Playwrights Award 2014, with two Scottish veterans of stage and screen.

Taking on the director’s duties is Jimmy Yuill, who has recently returned to live in his home town of Golspie, whose acting credits include screen roles in EastEnders, Hamish Macbeth, Wycliffe and Local Hero, while behind the scenes he has worked as a performance consultant on long-term collaborator Branagh’s films, working with such well known names as Helena Bonham Carter, Chris Pine and Keira Knightley.

Joining the four youngsters on stage is Benny Young, who has performed with the National Theatre of Scotland and includes Chariots of Fire and Out of Africa on his CV.

"Every couple of days I’ll go: ‘I’m working alongside Jimmy!’" said Inverness’s Chris Beaton, who is making his first professional stage appearance in Never Land.

"And Benny was in some huge films. Every so often he’ll come up with a story about working with Meryl Streep. I can’t believe I’m working alongside these guys."

It is this mentoring aspect that was one of the most appealing parts of the project for writer Young.

"It’s a really unique opportunity to be able to take really experienced people and have them mentor new graduates," she said.

"It’s so inspiring to see the young actors working with Benny."

Young’s brief from Eden Court, which is also developing another of her plays, Lost At Sea, was to create a play for five characters.

The result is her dark take on Peter Pan with Patrica — or Peanut — who finds herself in a limbo world between life and death after a failed suicide attempt.

"It’s a slightly nightmarish version of Never Land," she explained.

"It’s quite a dark piece, quite abstract. I was looking for a way to tell the story of this young girl who makes the decision to take her own life and to understand her motives, but without judging her and I found putting her in this surreal setting gave me slightly more leeway to do that."

Young was also involved in auditioning the young actors, whittling them down from the 40 who applied to the final four.

Along with Beaton they are Fiona MacNeill from Barra, who plays the lead role of Peanut, Ewan Petrie from Banchory, and Rebecca Wilkie from Aberdeen as Tink — a rather different take on Tinkerbell.

"It felt really exciting to see the talent that we have up here," Young added. "It was just a shame that we only have four parts."

The play may make use of north of Scotland talent, but this does not make it a parochial piece.

"You don’t really hear people saying, ‘Oh, it’s a Glasgow play’, but if you say it’s a Highland play, people imagine something a bit twee with some tartan. This is from the Highlands, but it’s more universal than that," Young said.

The cast rehearse a scene from the play. Photo: Alison White.
The cast rehearse a scene from the play. Photo: Alison White.

For Beaton, who has just completed the UHI drama degree, the chance to take part in Never Land was worth sacrificing a third year of his course for.

"Opportunities like this don’t come around often for young actors up here," he said.

"It’s a very big deal that Eden Court are putting this into production."

Beaton is moving to Edinburgh in January, but hopes that will be only be a temporary move.

"After I get more experience, I want to move back here and be a part of kick starting the theatre movement up here," he said.

"That’s something that’s really taken off over the past couple of years. A couple of years ago there was hardly anyone on the UHI drama course. Now it’s just packed,"

Fellow 24-year old MacNeill is also taking her first professional role, having just completed her theatre course in Manchester, and will even get a chance to perform in front of her home crowd when the play goes to Barra in early November.

"What a fantastic opportunity," she said.

"We are all at the same stage of our careers and any questions we have, Barry and Jimmy are more than willing to help and give advice."

In turn, Young is impressed by the young actors he is working alongside.

"The younger actors coming out of college today work harder and are a lot more committed than we were," he said.

"And why should people have to leave the region for their career? The energy and the talent is up here. You can see things on telly, and that’s great, but to see a live show and to see things that are relevant to this area, that’s very important."

• Never Land’s Highland and islands tour includes Eden Court, Inverness, Monday 27th; Stag’s Head, Golspie, Tuesday 28th; Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, Wednesday 29th; Strathy Hall, Thursday 30th; Achmore Village Hall, Friday 31st; Aros Centre, Skye, Saturday 1st November; Macphail Centre, Ullapool, Tuesday 4th November.

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