O' – didn't the Lasses do well?

A BORDERS-BASED theatre group has secured a coveted award from Scotland's leading critics.

The Rowan Tree Theatre Company received the Best Use of Music prize at Sunday's prestigious Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS).

The award was for the performance of musicians Lillias Kinsman Blake (flute/fiddle), Rachel Newton (fiddle/harp) and Seylan Baxter (cello) as part of The Lasses, O', a play directed by John Bett which toured around Scotland earlier this year.

Based on the life of Robbie Burns in the Year of Homecoming, the play saw all three musicians accompany actress and singer Gerda Stevenson, who was shortlisted for CATS' best female performance, but lost out to Irene Macdougall.

The combination received a warm response from audiences and reviewers alike, with one judge describing Gerda's voice as 'beautifully pitched' and the music of Lillias, Rachel and Seyland as 'wild and interesting'.

Despite Rachel and Seylan both having performed in the Borders before during their careers, it is only Lillias who hails from the region.

From Smailholm, Lillias had previously written and performed music for Rowan Tree's 2004 production of The Love Adventures of Mr George Cochrane.

But she believes her latest work found favour among the 13-strong judging panel of critics for the CATS award, thanks to the formula of song and prose.

"The music was central to the play which is unusual and is probably why we won the award," said the 26-year-old.

"The script centred around four monologues, each with a song. We used Burns' songs, but also composed our own.

"The music was a collaborative effort with Gerda and John involved, although they were not involved in the composing directly.

"They would ask us to come up with pieces of music to reflect a type of mood at a certain point in the play.

"Myself and Rachel had worked with Rowan Tree before and we were pleased to take part when asked again .It would be great to do more work with the group," Lillias added.

"I have played at a lot of the Borders' village halls and the audiences were fantastic – to play in front of them again with the Rowan Tree Theatre Company would be great."

Judy Steel of Rowan Tree believes the group is now among the leaders in their field in the country.

She said: "I am delighted with the award, which now puts us among the best theatre groups in Scotland.

The music is always central to our productions, but particularly with this play about the life of Robbie Burns. Gerda was also shortlisted for an award and deserves mention for a superb performance."

Meanwhile, Lillias will return to the stage alongside Rachel Newton as part of all-girl folk group The Shee.

Among their busy schedule is a trip to Vancouver, Canada, to play the city's Highland Games next Saturday.

Borderers can get a chance to see The Shee at Paxton House on July 22, while performances at Cambridge Folk Festival on July 31 and August 1 are more highlights of a hectic summer of gigging for Lillias.