You've got to be bold to tackle the tricky territory of national identity but Glasgow Theatre Company Fish and Game aren't ones to back down from a challenge. With half the company Scottish and the other half English they're in a prime position to define Scottishness from the inside and out.
Their latest offering, Otter Pie, had its genesis when they were exploring the theme of happiness. Artistic directors Robert Walton and Eilidh MacAskill explain that the company began asking the questions: 'is Scotland happy?', 'are Scottish people happy? and 'what is Scottishness?' Dr Carole Craig's book The Scots' Crisis in Confidence was highly influential and got them thinking about Scottish stories as a way of understanding cultural identity. "In our attempt to get to the nub of Scottishness we looked for some answers in Sunset Song, as we saw it being described as the 'quintessential Scottish novel' and it had been voted 'Scotland's favourite novel'. As we were working on the show, parts of the book and the characters started to interest us and gave us a way to link all our material together".
Based around Lewis Grassic Gibbons' classic Sunset Song, Fish and Game developed Otter Pie through improvisation over a period of several weeks at Glasgow's Tramway during which, MacAskill says, they "sang Scottish songs, learned ceilidh dances and made our own Scottish Health Board adverts". Their exploration led them to the conclusion that they "agreed with Craig about the fact that Scottish national identity is not in any danger of disappearing and that instead we should be concerned with individual identities".
Opening at the Paisley Arts Centre in early November, Fish and Game will then be taking Otter Pie on the road in what is their first Scottish tour; the company are excited to be touring. "We're particularly interested to see how people react when we perform in the North East of Scotland where Sunset Song is set and is sometimes revered. We hope they realize that we love the book and are not trying to ridicule it!"
That said humour is a key element of their work. "Rather than trying to ram an issue or idea down peoples' throats, we tend to make light of things even if they are difficult or horrific, and this highlights the seriousness," says Walton. Otter Pie looks at bridging the gap between the past and the present. "A lot of the humour in the show comes from our difficulties as young people in the 21st Century trying to represent and perform a farming life that belongs firmly in the past and the outdoors".
As for the enigmatic name, trust the team behind Eilidh's Daily Ukulele Ceilidh to pull a fast one on us. It's not just about pies! "When we were working with some Australian artists, we managed to convince them that Otter Pie was a special Scottish delicacy that they would be able to sample in Glencoe" MacAskill says. "It became a byword for something really Scottish but slightly unpalatable. Otters are so happy-looking, but they're not so happy in a pie". [Susannah Radford]