A NEW act in the story of Play Pieces, the Highlands own lunchtime theatre showcase, begins this weekend with a new home and an expansion into Moray.
Following the first two seasons of short lunchtime plays at first The Ironworks and then the Spectrum Centre in Inverness, Play Pieces has found a new Inverness home in the Phoenix pub on Academy Street, but has also added an Elgin venue, the Drouthy Cobbler.
As an added incentive and following the example of Play Piece’s inspiration, A Play, A Pie and A Pint at Oran Mor in Glasgow, audiences can now enjoy a free pint thanks to Windswept Brewery in Elgin and the Loch Ness Brewery in Inverness, as well as a pie or vegetarian alternative.
However, Play Pieces director Lindsay Brown hopes it will still be the original drama from the Highlands rather than the food and drink that provides the biggest draw.
"Play Pieces allows Highland artists to try something out and if it works, there could be more life in it and if not, then it’s still a really interesting piece of theatre," she said.
"You are not going to get great sightlines or acoustics, but you are going to get a wonderful experience.
"There was a fascinating documentary about A Play, A Pie and A Pint and one of the contributors called it ‘theatre without resources’. That really resonated with us because it breaks down the formality of theatre and allows the audience to appreciate what’s happening on stage without any gimmicks," Brown said.
"Often the beauty of a small production like that is that they could easily go on tour and handle any village hall."
There are six plays in the current season, which runs from September to March with a January break, but Brown says there could have been many more, given the response from north writers and theatre companies.
"We could easily have programmed 12 months. We had some great ideas and are trying to see if there is any way we can support some them into production," she said.
Play Pieces Shorts, which brings together short plays and sketches, returns on Thursday 13th and Friday 14th November.
This too has a new home, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and Brown hopes it will give an opportunity for new talent to try out fresh ideas.
"If anyone is interested in being involved in Play Pieces lunchtime, they can use Play Pieces Shorts as an opportunity to give a little taster of that performance," she said.
Opening the new season of Play Pieces is The Rhum Plants by Phil Baarda, a true tale of science and deception in the Hebrides.
"There was a botanist who was very well known and renowned and kept making all these well known discoveries on the isle of Rum (then spelt Rhum) and basically he got Rum-bled when people figured out he was staging the whole thing," Brown said.
"It is about how information is presented to us and what we choose to believe, but it also touches on the natural world and how we manipulate it."
The play is also very funny, Brown added, as might be expected from director Dave Smith of Right Lines, the company behind such shows as Whisky Kisses and Who Bares Wins.
Performing the piece will be newer talent in Inverness College students Chris Daniel, Andrew Dunlop and Grant Morrison along with more experienced local actress Heather Corpe.
"When we released the brief for Play Pieces, we said we wanted it to be collaborative," Brown added.
"This piece is all about collaboration. You have Phil, who is gaining experience as a playwright, working with a very experienced director in Dave Smith. Then you have three up and coming actors as well as an established actor."
The season continues in October with dark comedy Cat Plays Piano, written by Kit Lee, which is also being programmed as part of Highland Mental Health Arts and Film Festival and Moray Feelgood Festival.
Beyond The Trenches in November is Play Pieces’ contribution to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Written and performed by Nicholas Ralph and Rebecca Martin it is also directed by a well known figure from the world of theatre, Inverness-born actor Jimmy Chisholm.
In December, well known storyteller and musician Bob Pegg branches into theatre with Warrior Blues, a modern spin on Homer’s Odyssey.
Pegg is also involved in February’s offering, providing the music for John Burns’s Mallory: Beyond Everest.
Originally a one-man show about George Mallory, who disappeared while climbing Everest 90 years ago, the play is being expanded for Play Pieces following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The season finishes in March with The Gamekeeper by Emma Anderson, the only writer involved in all three seasons of Play Pieces to date.
"It’s really exciting to be ending the season with Emma’s piece because again it’s a young theatre company, and emerging writer, addressing a subject that is very specifically Highland, but also resonates across any rural community," Brown said.
"It’s about a young man (played by Fraser Sivewright) who becomes a gamekeeper and the isolation he faces. I think it summarises exactly what Play Pieces is trying to achieve: supporting emerging artists and contemporary theatre, but also something that has got a Highland issue or flavour to it as well."
As for Play Pieces’ future, that will depend on further support from Creative Scotland, but Brown is hopeful that the agency will be sympathetic.
"Creative Scotland has been fantastically supportive over the years, so we just need to make a good case. One way or another, by March we should know if we have another two years," Brown said.
"Partnerships are just forming, ideas are starting to flow and another two years would be great."
• Play Pieces 2014/15 season begins this weekend with The Rhum Plants, written by Phil Baarda and directed by Dave Smith and performed by Chris Daniel, Andrew Dollop, Grant Morrison and Heather Corpe.
Friday performances take place at The Drouthy Cobbler, Elgin.
Saturday shows are at The Phoenix, Academy Street, Inverness.
Doors open at 12.30pm withe the performance underway at 1pm.
Tickets are £10 and include a free drink and lunch.