Rowan Tree set to take centre stage

ROWAN Tree Theatre Company is up for two prestigious national awards, writes Sally Gillespie.

Actress Gerda Stevenson is in line for best female performance for her work in the company’s latest production, The Lasses, O, in the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS)

And musicians Seylan Baxter, Lillias Kinsman Blake and Rachel Newton have been nominated for best use of music and sound prize.

A founder member of the company and Rowan Tree’s artistic adviser and producer, Judy Steel said: “I can’t say what it means to Rowan Tree that our performers in The Lasses, O – Gerda Stevenson and the three brilliant musicians – Seylan Baxter, Lillias Kinsman Blake and Rachel Newton – have all been nominated in their respective sections of the CATS awards.

“Rowan Tree is a small company that has never had Scottish Arts Council funding and which struggles to raise funds from project to project.

“It is great that CATS has placed us alongside some of the giants of the Scottish theatre scene and it is as a tribute to all who have helped to build the company over the years, to the point at which it is able to attract practitioners of such high calibre.

“Our aim has always been to have the highest standards of production and performance to take round the small theatres and village halls of the Borders. The CATs nominations are both an honour to us and a vindication of our policy of perfecting ‘chamber theatre’ – small and beautiful.”

The Lasses, O, by award-winning poet, author and playwright Janet Paisley, is the company’s way of honouring the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s Bard. The one-woman play takes an unusual look at the life of Robert Burns, telling his story through women in his life – all played by the award-winning Stevenson.

The Peeblesshire actress’s film performances include Braveheart as Murren’s mother, Dead Man Falls and Blue Black Permanent, for which she won the BAFTA Scotland Best Film Actress Award. Television credits include Taggart, Rough Justice and Heartbeat.

Interweaving the stories is music by multi-instrumentalists Rachel Newton and Lillias Kinsman-Blake, members of the young traditional/contemporary band Shee, both of whom have performed previously with Rowan Tree, and the cellist/percussionist Seylan Baxter.

And as is traditional for the 21-year-old company, it toured the production to villages and small theatres throughout the Borders with the show. Rowan Tree will be going head-to-head with well-known city theatres such as The Citizens’ and The Tron in Glasgow, and Edinburgh’s Traverse at the awards next month.

Co-convener of the CATS awards, Joyce MacMillan said: “Scotland is justifiably proud of its strong theatre tradition.

“The annual CATS ceremony is a special opportunity to celebrate this with both the theatre professionals and, equally importantly, the public whose ongoing support is vital for the future of Scottish theatre.

“We are delighted to be coming to Edinburgh for the first time this year and to be staging the event at the Festival Theatre.”

The awards ceremony will be held in the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, on Sunday, June 14.