Scottish dramatist David Greig – author of the stage adaptation of Dr Seuss’s famous children’s book The Lorax and the gloriously titled The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union – is one of the most prolific and eclectic contemporary playwrights. His latest work, Under Another Sky, may well have created a new theatrical genre all of its own: namely, the 21st-century Roman history road trip romcom.
Greig’s play is inspired liberally by Charlotte Higgins’s 2014 book of the same name. Written, appropriately enough, for the delightful, neo-Roman amphitheatre in the gardens of Pitlochry Festival Theatre (PFT), the drama is interested, first-and-foremost, in the story behind the writing of Higgins’s “journeys in Roman Britain”.
An acclaimed author, journalist and classicist, Higgins conducted the research for her book by way of a road trip around the historical sites in a Volkswagen campervan with the classics professor (who would soon become her partner) Matthew Fox. This journey – in which the couple’s copy of Roger JA Wilson’s book A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain is as crucial as the satnav on their mobile phones – provides the basis for a light-hearted work of theatre.
Directed by PFT’s artistic director Elizabeth Newman, this little two-hander is performed by fine actors Amelia Donkor and Keith Macpherson. It is not, I hope, unkind to suggest that the casting requires a certain willingness to suspend one’s disbelief. Donkor’s playing range is in the 30s. Macpherson’s feels, let’s say, somewhat older. Unlikely couple though they might seem, the pair take off from London in a campervan comprised of a single bed, some bedroom furniture and a metal VW sign that might have been borrowed from the Beastie Boys circa 1986.
On their journey, the loosely fictionalised couple fall in love. However, whether Higgins would have been so attracted to Fox if he really had run around the British countryside, pretending to be a Roman legionnaire with the gusto of an overactive adolescent, is a moot point. They also meet various cartoonish characters (played by Macpherson) who give colour to the piece, and their conversation is peppered with interesting historical facts that are bound to pique the interest of those who are yet to read Higgins’s book.
A charming piece of midsummer theatre, presented in beautiful surroundings, Under Another Sky sits at the lighter end of Greig’s remarkably diverse oeuvre.
Various dates until September 23. Tickets: 01796 484 626; pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com