Grit – review

The production Of Grit – The Martyn Bennett story aims to tell the story of the piper, fiddler and producer who in his short career gave Scottish traditional music a much needed kick into the 21st century.
Directed by Cora Bissett, whose work includes The Glasgow Girls and Roadkill, and written by Kieran Hurley, Grit tell’s Bennett’s story in a fittingly innovative and creative way incorporating modern dance, projected imagery and even a trapeze artist.
It shows us how a young Martyn was taken to folk festivals by his mother Margaret, herself a folklorist and singer of great repute, before taking up the pipes and studying at the city of Edinburgh Music school and the RSAMD. It’s during his time at the latter that he’s introduced to dance music that dominated the early 90s. The scene portraying this sees Sandy Grierson as Bennett talking this all in and wondering what he could do with this music as a dance ensemble performs a mixture of modern and highland dance in bright kilts. The dance was choreographed by Dana Gingrass and portrays the 90’s house scene well.
The production has many laughs along the way not least when Bennett, frustrated at being told to be less experimental in his music, builds a cabinet to hold a sound system and heads out busking on the streets of Edinburgh complete with bagpipes and sound system.
Everything is going well for Bennett until in a turning point scene brilliant in it’s simplicity he’s told he has cancer and responds with the typically Scottish “fuck”. The atmosphere on the stage changes from one of pure joy to one of confusion and despair for Bennett and wife Kirsten, brilliantly portrayed by Hannah Donaldson.
The mood lightens somewhat when, coaxed by Sheila Stewart, Bennett begins work on an album that mixes old Scottish songs with modern dance beats. This eventually becomes his final album Grit. This story is not to have a happy ending as Martyn Bennett died in January 2005 aged just 33. This slow decline is difficult to watch at times and there were many misty eyes when we left the theatre, but it is absolutely integral to the story.
There is a part in the production where Bennett is discussing the meaning of the Sorley MacLean’s poem Hallaig about a village on Rassay left deserted by the clearances with Margaret Bennett who is played by Gerda Stevenson. The elder Bennett explains that it’s about keeping people’s stories alive and by doing that you can in a way cheat time and keep them alive. The fact that nearly a decade after his death Martyn Bennett’s story is being told in such an innovative way and is having such an effect on those that see it goes to prove that this is in a sense true and that Bennett’s spirit very much lives on in his music and all those musicians who continue to be inspired by him.

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