TradFest Theatre Piece Explores Hamish Henderson’s International Context Today

Hamish HendersonEnacting the poems and songs of the late Hamish Henderson (1919-2002), On the Radical Road is a uniquely structured, experimental, dramatic evocation of the man and his work; a radical fusion, for the first time presenting a holistic and seamless view of the poet and songwriter in a new and challenging dramatic whole.

More than simply a celebration of the poetry and songs, this is a journey through war and peace, across Scotland, England, North Africa and Europe; a choral and dramatic movement which is at once lyrical and declamatory, confessional and political, with fire in its belly and love at its heart.

On The Radical Road: Enacting Hamish Henderson will premiere as part of TradFest Edinburgh, Thursday 27April to Monday 1 May, at the Anatomy Theatre, Summerhall.

An ensemble production by Theatre Objektiv, On the Radical Road has been scripted and shaped from Henderson’s poems and songs by its artistic director, Raymond Raszkowski Ross.

Raszkowski Ross states: ‘Our intention is not to present biography or documentary, but to realise the words, passions and music of Hamish Henderson in Raymond Raszkowski Rossan innovative and compelling way, doing away with all the commentaries, reminiscences and admirations that usually surround the man. Instead, we give the molten lava of his own words and thoughts – from his poetry, music and songs in an almost ritual incantation.

This ensemble approach not only reflects Henderson’s belief that poetry and folk song are inseparable in the Scottish Literary Tradition as properly understood; but, in a way that is unique to live theatre, it will essentially dissolve false divisions between ‘art’ poetry and ‘folk’ song.

Rightly regarded as ‘The Father of the Scottish Folk Revival’, there have nevertheless been too many cosy and couthy approaches to this seminal figure who was a major Scottish/European poet of the C20th and a profoundly European intellectual as well as man of action who, for example, drafted the surrender of Italy signed under his supervision by Field Marshal Graziani April 29th 1945.

Henderson embodies much more than the Folk Revival and On the Radical Road implicitly challenges many well-entrenched – and lazy – assumptions about this radical artist whose abiding philosophy, intention and vision was that (channelling both Heinrich Heine and Antonio Gramsci)  “Poetry Becomes People”. In short, what has long been missing from some ‘traditional’ approaches to Henderson is both the poetry and the intellect, thus giving a lop-sided view of him which, in reality, reflects a lop-sided view of Scotland and its culture.

Live theatre can address this dichotomy, while capturing the man of thought and action, in a vital and energising way which no other art form can; while reminding us what it means to be Scottish in a European and international context today.

Edinburgh-based Theatre Objektiv, headed by Director Raymond Raszkowski Ross, have created a holistic, dramatic view of poet and songwriter, Hamish Henderson, for the first time, withthe stellar cast of Vanda De Luca, Isabella Jarrett and Gavin Paul, who are joined by Alastair McDonald, one of Scotland’s leading folksingers and interpreters of Henderson’s work.


The Importance of Hamish Henderson

After the publication of his award-winning Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica (1948), the distinguished historian E.P. Thompson wrote to Henderson: ‘You, more than any other poet I know, are an instrument through which thousands of others can become articulate. And… your songs and ballads… are quite as important as the Elegies.

Working with Henderson, Raymond Ross edited and published Hamish Henderson: Collected Poems and Songs under the Curly Snake imprint in 2000.

In the introduction to its 2016 documentary Hamish, BBC Alba described Henderson as “a colossal figure in Scottish culture and a man of endless passion and curiosity”.

Performances: Thu 27 Apr – Mon 1 May (Summerhall, Anatomy Theatre), 7.30pm (50mins)

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