- Cast and Creatives
- Tour Dates
- Audience Response
- Production Shots
- Rehearsal Shots
- 1988 Traverse Theatre Production
Written by Sue Glover. Directed by Liz Carruthers. A co-production with Hirtle. The first Scottish tour in 27 years.
Beautifully written by the award-winning author of Bondagers, The Straw Chair is a profound, powerful and playful story with Gaelic. Set in the early eighteenth century on the remote Scottish island of Hirta (St. Kilda) it explores liberty, marriage, female empowerment and life on the Hebrides in captivating fashion.
It’s a stormy start to marriage for 17-year-old Isabel and her minister husband Aneas, as they arrive on a 10 day boat journey from Edinburgh onto the island of St. Kilda to spread the gospel in the North. Amongst the inhabitants lives Lady Grange, based the true historical figure named Rachel Chiesley who was kidnapped and banished by her former husband James Erskine, Lord Grange, to various secluded Scottish islands after she successfully tried him for treason following their bitter divorce.
Lady Grange is desperate to return to civilisation and escape a life incarcerated with the heathen St. Kildans and her serving woman Oona. Isabel is appalled yet fascinated by Rachel, who tells the young bride unfamiliar stories of betrayal and abduction. While Isabel uncovers alarming similarities, battling between youthful exhilaration and the danger of being too troublesome a wife, Lady Grange clings with tragic dignity to the two things she has left in the world – a consuming rage and an old straw chair.
Supported by Creative Scotland and Ayr Gaiety Partnership.
‘THE STRAW CHAIR’ by Sue Glover (© Sue Glover 1997) was reproduced by permission of United Agents on behalf of Sue Glover. Copyright Agent: United Agents www.unitedagents.co.uk
Lady Grange // Selina Boyack
Isabel // Pamela Reid
Aneas // Martin McBride
Oona // Ceit Kearney
Director // Liz Carruthers
Writer // Sue Glover
Creative Producer // Liz Burton-King
Set and Costume Designer // Claire Halleran
Costume Maker // Rebecca Coyle
Sound Designer // Jamie Wardrop
Lighting Designers // Bevis Evans-Teusch and Dave Shea
Fight Director // EmmaClare Brightlyn
We would like to say a special thank you and acknowledgement to those involved in the creation of the music for The Straw Chair:
Piper // Seonaidh MacIntyre Clarsach
Psalm Presenter and Voice Over // Iain Macrae
Psalm Singer and Voice Over // Catriona Lexy Campbell, Theresa Irving and Sandra Steele
Psalm 103 is used courtesy of the School of Scottish Studies. Contributors are Donald MacLeod and Mina MacLeod
30 March // an Lanntair, STORNOWAY, Isle of Lewis
01 April // Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, SLEAT, Isle of Skye
03 April // Eden Court Theatre, INVERNESS
04 April // Birnam Arts
07 April // Ardross Community Hall
08 April // Astley Hall, ARISAIG
10 April // Comar, Druimfin, TOBERMORAY
11 April // The Tower Digital Arts Centre, HELENSBURGH
14-18 April // Tron Theatre, GLASGOW
21 April // Cumbernauld Theatre
22 April // Carlops Village Hall, PENICUIK
23-25 April // Traverse Theatre, EDINBURGH
28 April // Paisley Arts Centre
29 April // Gaiety Theatre, AYR
30 April // Adam Smith Theatre, KIRKCALDY
01 May // Bowhill Theatre, SELKIRK
02 May // Brunton Theatre, MUSSELBURGH
07 Ma // Bernera Community Centre, GREAT BERNERA
08 May // Tarbert Community Centre, Isle of Harris
09 May // Stoneybridge Hall, South Uist
★★★★ “Richly enjoyable…Selina Boyack turns in a stunning performance…a play that demands attention for bringing so many unheard and marginalised voices – Gaelic, St Kildan, and intensely female – to the very centre of the stage” // The Scotsman
★★★★ “Liz Carruthers’ strong, understated production makes you wonder where it’s been all these years…Carruthers gives due emphasis to the writing in a production that takes time and care to make its points about gender, power, abandonment and isolation…Boyack’s performance consistently lights a fire under the action.” // The Times (no-paywall)
“Truly captivating…an impressive vividness…Liz Carruthers’s fine production is neatly designed, evocatively lit and makes lovely use of recorded Hebridean music and song…It is an intelligent, robust, humorous and poignant performance [the excellent Boyack]…this beautifully crafted four-hander deserves to be considered a modern classic of Scottish theatre.” // The Sunday Herald
★★★★ “Rich tapestry of femininity and rebellion…Carruthers’ production is a welcome revival of this often overlooked piece…performed with authenticity and compassion…Glover’s exceptional script…such furious potency…brought a grave injustice, issues of historic abuses of power and questions of female autonomy to the public once more, for which they should be highly commended.” // TV Bomb
★★★★1/2 “Hugely effective…you could expect any audience – and this had a full house – to be impressed…The cast in this production make much of their material…the play had said something both subtle and rewarding about its tiny corner of the Scottish experience.” // The Public Reviews
★★★★ “Ragged glory…a warm and thoughtful core…not only is it an intriguing work, it contains a part that lends itself to the kind of stunning performance Selina Boyack turns in here…a performance that deserves the widest possible audience.” // All Edinburgh Theatre
★★★★ “Passionately captured…lovely lyrical dialogue…The play, well directed by Liz Carruthers, is an exposé of the arrogance and need of control of both class and religion over women, in particular at the time that holds echoes for the present day.” // Edinburgh Guide
★★★★ “eloquent play…this excellent production. We have a vivid portrayal of St Kilda, an evocation of 18th century Edinburgh, (with a hint of turbulent Jacobite politics), and added to this 3 strongly drawn female characters. This is a play that will certainly stand the test of time.” // Lothian Life
★★★ “a fascinating fusion of fiction and an imagined version of the real life Lady Grange…Lady Grange’s unfettered largesse allows both Glover’s writing and Selina Boyack who plays her to let rip.” // The Herald (no-paywall)
★★★ “A welcome revival of a play that still poses some sharp questions about whether romanticism about the past disguises true hardships and abuses.” // The List
★★★ “Miss Havisham meets King Lear…a great performance of a great character” // The Guardian
“Captivating from the start and leaves you with a breathtaking final scene…Selena Boyack is superb…her performance fascinating to watch and providing layers of humour and melancholy…[an] alluring atmosphere that grasps the play’s audience and refuses to let go…a thought provoking must see of 2015. Sue Glover’s play shines in the recent, and well deserved, attention it has received – long may it continue.” // Rachel Clark
“An unassuming little gem of a play…captures the loneliness, desperation, and surprising tenderness of an existence on the edge of civilisation and sanity…a sophisticated level of wit and a kind of unembellished profundity…a convincing emotional rawness…The play is above all a tender one, as full of humanity as it is of tragedy.” // qmunicate magazine
“A corner of Scotland worth reviving” // Reviews Gate
“Not only provided humour but signifies how these strong females are striving for freedom and liberation in a time when women had little rights and were constrained by society.” // The Mumble
“The play’s very much about hypocrisy, both of the church and of Edinburgh society, and how so-called respectable society like to sweep people like Lady Grange under the carpet and pretend they don’t exist, It’s about how if a woman steps out of line society won’t tolerate it, and society today still won’t stand for it. If a woman gets drunk she’s thought far worse of than a man, and there’s this continuing disapproval of women who don’t stay in their place. I think we’re living through a really misogynist era at the moment, and so much of that comes through in the play. …
It’s a vivid piece. There’s lots of humour in it. Lady Grange didn’t follow social conventions and is obsessed with sex, so it’s very rude and very funny, but I hope as well as finding it funny that people will be angered by what happens in the play. It’s not preserved in aspic, that’s for sure. It’s as pertinent now as it was all those years ago.”
“This tension, between the oppression of women and the smiling piousness that managed it, drives The Straw Chair. By being set on St Kilda. it embraces the romanticism of the islands, even as it reveals the hardship of the island life. … Borderline’s production gives the script plenty of space, placing the performances and scenography at the service of the words. …
The Straw Chair casts a critical eye over the past, juggles with a true story and the idealism that imagines St Kilda as a lost paradise, provoking most where it entertains.”
“I once heard Liz [Carruthers] in rehearsal; they were discussing sightlines – saying ‘I don’t want this show to be directed mainly for bigger theatre; every venue on the tour is equally important.’ Which everybody in the company fully agrees with.
It’s about the problem – or the solution – of ‘uncomfortable’ women being ‘tidied away’. Rachel was by no means the only ‘disappeared wife’, although she is the only one to have had three funerals. The Victorians were a dab hand at it. Think of Camille Claudel. Women, and girls, were still being shut away on the orders of men – male relatives, priests, even into the 1950s, in the laundries of convents and reform schools.”
“For 41 years Borderline have been dedicated to touring across Scotland in rural locations. We want to engage with audiences in the Hebridean sector of Scotland, and this play has a tremendously Hebridean aspect to it. …
It’s wonderful to be opening our tour in Stornoway and then taking further performances to Skye, Great Bernera, Harris and South Uist with a play that is of direct relevance to the audiences there.”
“It’s worth waiting when you get a production like this…Martin McBride, who plays him, is a revelation.”
St. Kilda Exile is an Inspiration for Sue // Ross-shire Journal (also in Inverness Courier and Highland Times)
“Yes, it sounds a bit like Outlander, and no, it’s not really anything like Outlander.”
The Straw Chair was also part of The Guardian’s Theatre Pick of the Week, w/c March 30.
“I would heartily recommend this to anyone near the 13 venues it is on its way to from here. Brilliant performance as the mad bad and dangerous to know Lady Grange, and directed by the wonderful Liz Carruthers.” // Skye attendee
“What a fantastic performance! Much enjoyed by all.” // Juliette Lowe, Ardross Community Hall
Photography by John Johnston
Photography by Jackson Frater
Background and history to The Straw Chair featuring interviews with Director Liz Carruthers, Writer Sue Glover, Designer Claire Halleran and Creative Producer Liz Burton-King.
Interviews with the cast of The Straw Chair featuring rehearsal footage.
Videos by Prancing Jack Productions Ltd.
Watch a video of Assistant Producer Rishaad Moudden talking to The Tower Digital Arts Centre about bringing The Straw Chair to them as their first live theatre performance.
The Straw Chair was first performed at Traverse Theatre in 1988 as a co-production with Focus Theatre, followed by a Scottish tour. This was directed by Jeremy Raison, designed by Jenny Linz Roberts and starred Anne Lacey, Sharon Muircroft, Derek Anders and Alyxis Daly. The only other professional Scottish production was in 1993 by Sandy Neilson and Allan Sharpe’s Fifth Estate Theatre Company at the Netherbow Theatre, now the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Borderline and Hirtle present the first Scottish tour of this internationally renowned play in 27 years and are delighted to bring it back to Traverse Theatre on April 23-25.
“The old Traverse was a fitting venue for The Straw Chair: The Grassmarket, and the courtyard leading off it, must certainly have been frequented by the play’s characters. For, although the play is set on St. Kilda, eighteenth century Auld Reekie is a constant presence – as dirty and wild, maybe even wilder, than Hirta itself. I feel nostalgic for the old theatre, but excited to think of the play opening in the modern space. When members of the company remark (as they sometimes do) how long ago it is since the first production, I refuse to think of the 27 years. Instead I think how enjoyable (and instructive) it is to be part of a company which is so committed to the story, and has involved me so closely.” // Sue Glover
“The first production of The Straw Chair was a delight. My highlights were the extraordinary performance of Anne Lacey who has become a life-long friend, and the scene in which the three women gradually become drunk, which unfolded beautifully during one long afternoon rehearsing at the Pleasance. The three actresses Anne, Sharon Muircroft and Alyxis Daly produced wonderful subtle work as the play revealed itself line by line, shade by shade. Hovering over everything was the author Sue Glover, making a comeback to the theatre after writing for television for a number of years, who gave us the gift of this wonderful play and allowed us to bring it to life in the rehearsal room.” // Jeremy Raison, director of the original production