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Home is where the art is for The Dwelling Place creator

By Kyle Walker

The Dwelling Place.
The Dwelling Place.

A decrepit and rundown Hebridean home abandoned to the ravages of time has found new life as the inspiration for a new piece of theatre heading to the Highlands.

The Dwelling Place, a production by brothers Jamie and Lewis Wardrop that has been described as “part art installation, part theatre”, continues its two-night run at Eden Court on Thursday, before travelling up to Wick on Saturday.

A production that examines the loss of the old island communities over the years, a chance encounter with the old cottage while they visited one of their friends on the island was just the inspiration that was needed.

“It had kind of a profound effect on us, in that even after we’d visited it we kept coming back to the atmosphere of that place,” Jamie explained.

“And we didn’t really understand it entirely, because it felt like quite an obscured part of Scottish history and social history, so for us it felt like we uncovered a mysterious and ancient artefact of our own country’s life that had been kind of hidden from us.

“It was kind of a strange feeling, really – we’d never really been in a space like that that had had that effect on us in our own home country.”

The show draws upon the artefacts that were found in the old home to inspire its story – old poems, shortbread tins and other curios the brothers came across.

The Dwelling Place.
The Dwelling Place.

In many ways, it is a deeply personal tale – built up as it is from what are essentially abandoned mementos. “I think sometimes as artists that you kind of have to go into that place – it was a personal story but we could see that it meant something to other people as well.

“The likes of Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, Iain Crichton-Smith were writing about what had happened to their islands and their homes in this very philosophical, intellectual way, and I think they kind of realised what this repeated damage has been done.

“There’s many reasons for the forced emigration and a lot of it does seem to be about people just not really caring. The islands do seem to have been victims at times of the power of the British state, the growth of capitalism and the growth of globalisation, so we kind of thought that the house was in the middle of those stories in many ways.”

The work of those poets feature in the show – including the famous extract from Sorley Maclean’s Island that discusses how the islanders “know now another set of words; clearance, empire, profit, exploitation” that was also sampled by Glasgow folktronica outfit Niteworks. “It was funny because they chose exactly the same sample as we did – and we love them, we think they’re amazing!” Jamie laughs.

“We were really happy that they used that as well. They’ve obviously discovered that as well at the same time, and it’s really resonated with them as well I think.”

The Dwelling Place is looking at similar themes – just exploring them in a different way. “We use the poetry in the show, but I think the cumulative effect for the audience watching all of this imagery tells a story anyway of what happened there over 50-60 years.

“It’s kind of evident there in the imagery itself, because it’s so jarring and there is a kind of pathos to it seeing all the old pictures on the wall and all the details of it all. Because the owner was in the Merchant Navy so they had to leave the islands to find work. All these little things kind of add up to tell that story.”

The Dwelling Place co-creator Jamie Wardrop.
The Dwelling Place co-creator Jamie Wardrop.

Building a facsimile of the cottage within the theatre, the audience are free to roam about its rooms as the production happens around them – with audio and visual elements happening all around them.

“Some people will be curious enough and we try and encourage people to move around, but some people will just stand in one place and not get all of it,” Jamie said.

“But it’s the kind of thing that there’s so much going on at the same time, you’d never be able to hear it all and see it all anyway – it keeps changing and shifting. We quite liked it, because we felt it was quite similar to what it was like in the house.

“You could never really contain all of that within your perception anyway, and if people get their own experience of that then they’ve had their own unique experience.”

For the cottage itself – the real one standing in Leverburgh – there is a happier end to its story. “A young family on the islands have bought it and they’re going to refurbish it, which for us is quite shocking and amazing!

“Because that is the issue for us, the islands’ properties have been forgotten about, that there is that depopulation on the islands, there’s a massive housing crisis – so for something so dark to us to have this kind of rebirth and actually be returned to a happy home has been quite an interesting thing to have watched over the past few years.

“It feels like an interesting end point to the story in a way.”

The Dwelling Place comes to Eden Court on Wednesday and Thursday from 7.30pm, and to Lyth Arts Centre on Saturday from 8pm. For more information: The Dwelling Place

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