Oran Mor

A Play, a Pie and a Pint

“For producer David MacLennan and his team it’s been a stunning achievement”
THE SCOTSMAN

The Secret Commonwealth

Robert Kirk was born in 1644, the seventh son of a seventh son who also happened to be minister of Aberfoyle. Robert went to Edinburgh and St Andrew’s universities and was minister of Balquidder for twenty one years, where he translated the metrical psalms into his native Gaelic, before returning to Aberfoyle after his father’s death. But Robert increasingly spent time wandering the countryside, listening to the sounds which he swore emerged from fairy mounds, Aberfoyle’s Doon Hill in particular . And at a time when witchcraft was a capital offence in Scotland, he wrote The Secret Commonwealth, a supposedly factual account of the fairyland of the Celts, in all its strange, savage and fascinating detail. In 1692, he went out in his nightshirt and was supposed to have died of a heart attack on the Doon Hill. Not long after his funeral, he appeared to a cousin and said that he was not dead, but ‘stolen’. He could only be reclaimed from the Faery Realm if – at his baby son’s christening– a dagger was thrown over his head, when he appeared. He duly materialized, but the cousin was so disturbed by the vision that he forgot to throw the knife. After Kirk’s death, his eldest son, Colin, an Edinburgh lawyer, observed that ‘father has gone to his own kind’ and as late as 1978 local people were said to be aware of his presence at certain places around Aberfoyle.

The Secret Commonwealth is a play with music, based around the story of Kirk himself, but it is also a meditation on the conflict between new and old beliefs in seventeenth century Scotland. It is a play about the appeal of the natural world and the pull of tradition when set against the dictates of a more austere belief system. It is, essentially, a play about a man torn between two cultures.

Latest comments

  1. Critics' Circle Review said;

    02 February 2010, 12:22 am

    Why should you go to see a play about a seventeenth century Scottish minister in a remote Highland village?

    Well – because it isn’t about those things, but about what lies beyond them on the edges, the margins, where languages, cultures and traditions collide and melt, reality isn’t reliable and nothing is what it seems.

    I wasn’t at all put off by the one-person monologue form: the speeches were so powerful and mesmerising I was as entranced as the poor minister himself. The acting was great and the whole thing worked.

    Quite enjoyed the pie too.

  2. John McDonald said;

    03 February 2010, 8:22 pm

    “Critics’ Circle Review”
    The Secret Commonwealth confirms that Brigadoon is alive and well.
    A solo performance is always challenging. Liam Brennan paced about in his elasticated waist trousers in a manner reminiscent of Jack Sparrow, shouting his lines with gusto. The Highland Scenario was laden with pseudo scottish cliches, from oatcakes to heather honey; disappointing that Tannochbrae didn’t get a mention.
    Deirdre Graham’s lone voice was haunting, although at times The White Heather Club would have better suited the genre.
    As a portrait of 17th Century highland life the play verges on the comedic

  3. Julie Logan said;

    04 February 2010, 11:21 am

    The Secret Commonwealth is a play imagined in the modern day that simultaneously predates and postdates the preoccupation with the divided self that exists in Scottish literature. Robert Kirk personifies the Caledonian antisyzygy as he struggles through life wrestling with the pull of the new world and the allure of the old. There are times when the monologue almost slips into the realms of becoming a glorified storytelling exercise. However it is saved from this by the performance of Brennan and works best as a piece of drama when Robert’s words are set against the evocative singing of Deirdre Graham.

  4. Susan Porteous said;

    10 February 2010, 8:04 pm

    Having been transported into that place where the “real world” meets the unknown by a beautifully written and beautifully acted play, The Secret Commonwealth, I cannot agree with those who find the play irrelevant to today. I can only mourn what we have lost in our age of so-called civilisation.

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