St Kilda exile is an inspiration for Sue
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REMOTE St Kilda is still visited by relatively few people these days, but in the 18th century it was even more isolated.
Making it the perfect place for Edinburgh lawyer Lord Grange to dispose of a troublesome wife.
The archipelago was among the locations where Grange exiled and effectively imprisoned his wife Rachel after she threatened to expose his Jacobite sympathies.
Kidnapped by a group of fellow conspirators including Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, who was to become the last man executed for treason after Culloden, the unfortunate Lady Grange spent 13 years in captivity on St Kilda, the now uninhabited Monach Isles off North Uist and finally Skye, where she died in 1745 two months before Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in Scotland to lead his ill-fated rebellion.
Lady Grange’s confinement on St Kilda has provided the inspiration for Sue Glover’s play The Straw Chair, which is being revived for its first tour since its initial run in 1988.
For Glover, author of the award-winning Bondagers, the story had an immediate appeal.
"She’s a great character," Glover said.
"Some people hear about her and think immediately: ‘The wronged woman — she must practically have a halo around her head because she’s been so badly treated.’ But she wasn’t like that at all and that makes her so much more interesting.
"Her husband couldn’t properly divorce her so he sent her down to Leith and gave her £200 a year to keep out of his way and she just wouldn’t. She used to come up to Edinburgh absolutely stocious and berate all his posh friends. I just thought that was great. It’s a bit like a wronged wife today burning all her husband’s Armani suits.
"I don’t know if I have affection for Rachel, but she had the most frightful time and it doesn’t help that her family was pretty crazy. Her father was hanged for murder, so she had an unusual upbringing."
Glover is understandably delighted to see the play on the road again almost 27 years after it was first written.
"It’s worth waiting when you get a production like this," Glover said.
"I’ve worked with the director, Liz Carruthers, once before and she was working for ages to get funding for this play."
The play is not just about Lady Grange (Selina Boyack). The other key character is new bride and new arrival on St Kilda Isabel (Pamela Reid) who begins to see worrying reflections of Lady Grange’s marriage in her own relationship with her minister husband Aenas.
"Martin McBride, who plays him, is a revelation. People sometimes think the character’s not so important because he’s a man, but he is very important," Glover pointed out.
"The play does show two very different marriages, the young and struggling minister and his wife who almost have an arranged marriage, and then this wild and dreadful affair that Rachel and her husband had conducted."
The play was also written without Glover experiencing St Kilda for herself, but she found a substitute closer to home.
"There was no possibly of getting there unless I knew somebody with a helicopter, but I live opposite the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth which is almost like a mini-St Kilda," she said.
"I just imagined it 20 times remoter and 20 times taller."
• Borderline Theatre’s production of The Straw Chair, by Sue Glover, can be seen at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, at 7.30pm on Friday 3rd April; Ardross Community Hall at 8pm on Tuesday 7th April; and Astley Hall, Arisaig at 7.30pm on Wednesday 8th April.
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