Group Portrait in a Summer Landscape Blog
John Michie, Sally Reid and Benny Young discuss Group Portrait in a Summer Landscape, a new Scottish play by Peter Arnott and directed by David Greig.
The play opens with a nod to Heartland FM, as locals to the area will appreciate, and the Perthshire references don’t end there: fighter jets flying overhead, starry skies and deep glens, it’s a love letter to the region as well as a step back to observe a polarising period of the recent past. The breathtaking scenery provides the ultimate backdrop for the challenging characters.
Award-winning actress, Sally Reid (Shirley Valentine) sets the scene for what to expect of this new Scottish play,
On the surface, it’s quite a political play. It’s set in the 2014 referendum for independence. That’s very important and it sort of kick-starts the play. But it’s really a play about relationships; relationships developing and disintegrating. It’s something that all human beings will relate to because all human beings go through that very thing.
Group Portrait in a Summer Landscape pulls no punches. Be prepared for politics, provocations, and a quintessential Perthshire flavour that will feel like a balm to any who feel this part of Scotland has been neglected on stage in recent times. Powerful acting from a talented ensemble, the characters (which include the setting itself) are at the heart of Arnott’s powerful prose and you’ll feel every intense moment under David Greig’s expertly executed direction.
The patriarch of the divided Rennie family is played by the lauded Scottish actor, John Michie (Taggart) who told us of some of the finer details of his character’s nature,
He’s very political. He’s an intellectual, very passionate, egotistical, and curious. He is self-indulgent but he is beginning to shed that as he gets older and sort of seeing something deeper in life.
Michie went on to describe exactly what he thinks makes Group Portrait in a Summer Landscape sing,
There’s nine of us in the play, so it’s just brilliant to have such a big cast. I think audiences will really enjoy that aspect of it and maybe relate to somebody in the mix. I would say it’s also quite funny in a kind of dark way, which is one of my favourite genres, dark comedy. I kind of really get a buzz from that so it’ll be an exciting play to watch.
The stunning set, designed by Jessica Worrall is rich in its simplicity and transports you directly into the landscape of the family’s country house. The vibrant costume choices and episodic soundtrack relay a depth to the decisions the creative team have taken throughout Group Portrait of a Summer Landscape.
The play references the forming of the Scottish glens, carved out by the flow of ice over time, but Group Portrait does not meander, rather it pulses with palpable energy. This fast-paced, punchy play is filled with layers your mind will continue to sift through hours later.
Veteran Scottish actor, Benny Young (Shetland) plays Jimmy Moon, a lifelong family friend of the Rennies, and delivers some of the play’s deliciously comedic moments. When asked, Benny took a philosophical view on Arnott’s creation,
I’m going to quote Maxim Gorky who says that theatre is the school of the people that makes them think and it makes them feel. And I think Peter writes the play, but the audience rewrites it in their feelings and their thoughts. And I always think that the last act of the play is actually the discussion between the audience, so I think it’s a stimulating piece where audiences will get carried along with the characters and before they know it, they’ll just find out so much about them.