Don’t Miss Out on the 2017 Revels: A Holiday Show with a Completely Different Focus
Were my time and money budgets infinite, which they are not, this is one show that I would dearly love to see twice: once to study and translate the spoken and lyric gaelic language, and once to simply bathe in the pure sublime beauty and pageant of the music and the show.
It’s that kind of a show. And this year’s show, even though it’s billed as a “Christmas Revels,” is distinctly NOT a Christmas show, even though it runs (as Oakland’s Revels always have on their too-short runs) during the season. This one’s a hogmanay show—the Scottish celebration of the coming New Year, more important in the social life of that nation than that of Christmas itself (outlawed by Act of Parliament until 1958).
So, when in December you are feeling overwhelmed by the familiar songs and images, here is your antidote. Much of the music feels familiar, and yet this may be the first time you’ve heard much of it. All of it touches the heart and the memory in one way or another.
In this “Scottish Celebration of the Solstice” the costumed pageantry wraps around the conceit of the foreman of the country plowmen and weavers’ annual coming to the “laird o’ the manor” for his signature on their contract for labor in the coming year. The cast is all onstage, introduced by name, and thus the song and dance in their great and ancient variety begins.
There are shows-within-the show: the Bonnie Bairns o’ Dundee (none of them more than eleven I’d say) sing and dance their childish magic; mummers’ dances, fiddle duets and solos, country-dance reels and step dances, vocal solos and beautiful harmonies galore, Bobbie Burns’ and other’ poetry. A lovely, once-a-year fiddle hymn brought off the stage and into the aisles. The Selkie Song, Piping in the Haggis, Caw the Yowes, Something for everyone, all woven together by The Auld Scots Poet’s verse dialog, done up in a brogue so thick you have to listen closely to catch it all. And there’s the magic of the show, but there’s more—something you get from no other big show. The chance to be a part of it.
This is one show that insists on audience participation. We are enjoined to sing some of the songs, and given apt instruction and the words to the choruses in the playbill, so there’s no getting out of it.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing to compare with hundreds of voices joining in the choruses—Will you go, lassie, go” —hauntingly beautiful ballad Wild Mountain Thyme. And you get to dance, too—everyone in the audience—but you’ll have to actually go to the show to see how this can be done.
It’s a family show, by and for families for the sheer joy of it, you can see by the glowing smiles on the faces of all the performers. All the music and costuming is traditional, dating back hundreds of years. Hint: Buy the lyric sheet (“& translation”) before you’re seated, don’t wait for the intermission, or some of the Gaelic may pass you by.
Dec 8-10 & 15-17 2017. Fridays at 8pm. Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm & 5pm
at Scottish Rite Theater, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland
Box office: California Revels
Review by David Hirzel