Tucked away in the Southside of Glasgow a diverse crew of actors, dancers, choreographers and even a trapeze artist are deep into rehearsals for a new production by Cora Bissett. Today they are ready to give a sneak peak of what they’ve been working on at the Tramway Theatre.
Grit – The Martyn Bennett story aims to tell the story of the maverick piper and composer in a way that is every bit as creative as the man himself was and, judging by the short scenes performed today, it has certainly succeeded. There’s a great mix of skills on display. In one scene trapeze artist Maxime Yelle performs incredible aerial acrobatics to the strains of Bennett’s Blackbird. In another, depicting Martyn’s introduction to the the club culture that was to be a big part of his short life, there is a fusion of modern and highland dance with Sandy Grierson, who plays Martyn Bennett, taking it all in and thinking about what he could do with this music.
The initial idea for the production came when Cora Bissett revisited Grit for the first time in a while: “It wasn’t until recently that I revisited Grit. Something just sparked in me again. It’s just the life force coming through that album, it’s extraordinary.” It was fortuitous timing as the Commonwealth games Cultural program opened up an avenue of funding that was previously unavailable. “When I had the seed of the idea, being a small, independent company, we had think about where we were going to get funding for this. So as we were starting to look around for funding – serendipitously – the Commonwealth Fund was launched and they were keen to support work that celebrates Scottish culture but from a very internationalist viewpoint. I can’t think of anything more apt. They were very keen that we connect with Commonwealth partners, and with Martyn having the dual heritage, being born in Canada, I just thought – this is perfect. I worked with Canadian partners to reflect his dual heritage, also there’s a big Gaelic speaking population in Canada and a very spiritual bond between the two countries – and so it just started to feel so right. I was confident that I’d be able to get the funding for this.” says Bissett.
Above all the production is as much about Martyn the man as Martyn the musician which will help it appeal to people less familiar with his music and it had been. Bissett’s intention from the start to tell it in this way: “I don’t feel that he’s been forgotten about, but I think the story of Martyn as a human being, and what he achieved in his short life – nobody has really told that as a drama. And I think, for a whole new generation… when I speak to people who are maybe in their twenties, most of them don’t know who Martyn Bennett is and I thought ‘that is a real shame, what can I do about that? ‘ I can tell his story. That’s my job – I tell his story and it opens it up to a whole new generation of people. That was the motivating factor – let’s celebrate this guy.” explains Bissett.
Everyone involved in the project seems hugely enthusiastic about it and this comes across in the performance. Martyn’s duel Scots/Canadian heritage (he lived in Canada until he was six) is celebrated with the choreographer and trapeze artist coming from Canada to be part of the production. Bisett is keen to see the production live on after this summer and would love to see it performed in Canada.
Before that it has a run in Glasgow from 3 – 7 June before moving to Mull where there will be a mini festival featuring the likes of Lau, Mr McFalls Chamber and India Alba from 19 – 22nd June. Moving to Mull is not without it’s problems explains Bissett: “That’s going to be a challenge, for sure, but it’s a challenge we’re preparing for right from the start. The main part of the set can be split into a smaller section for the stage on Mull. We can’t do the trapeze work on Mull because the ceiling isn’t high enough for the rig, so we’re going to replace that with a Chinese pole artist. The acrobatics take place on a ground-based pole – so you still get that same feeling of something very beautiful, a kind ascension – take off.”
This is very much a story that needs to be told and, by using Martyn’s own music, it’s like he’s partly telling his story himself.