Students bring Scottish history to life with legendary ‘ceilidh play’

April 29, 2024

Rehearsals are in full swing for Acting & Performance students from NESCol, as they prepare for their rendition of The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. From the 14-16 May, 20 HND students will take to the stage to perform John McGrath’s iconic ‘ceilidh play’ at the College’s theatre in the heart of Aberdeen.

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil is a retelling of the exploitation of Scotland’s land and resources, from the 18th century through to the 1970s. However, with Gaelic songs, sketches, comedy, poetry and audience participation, this is no dull history lesson!

The highly influential play was first performed at the Aberdeen Arts Centre in 1973 by the theatre group, 7:84, before it toured the Highlands and Islands. Fifty years on, and much of the show is still as relevant today as it was when it first toured.

Hannah MacBeth, Acting & Performance Lecturer at NESCol, said: “I was delighted to find out we had acquired the rights to perform the play. Myself and this particular group of students are passionate about learning and sharing Scottish history so it’s the perfect fit.

“Although the play ends in the 1970s, we’ve worked to make it resonate with a modern audience, and our music department have given the songs a contemporary feel.”

Students on stage rehearsing a ceilidh for the Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil

The whole cast is Scottish, and the students have fully embraced their heritage in preparation for the show. Along with their lecturers, they have taken their training to the next level by learning Gaelic.

Acting & Performance student, Emily Reid, is a Gaelic speaker and feels strongly about keeping the language alive. She said: “Most people don’t know Scottish history or care about Gaelic. I’m lucky to have lived in the Islands and have grandparents that speak Gaelic, but my fellow students didn’t know it at all.

“I think that’s why my favourite part of the show is the Gaelic song, Mo Dhachaidh, which means ‘My Home’. I sing this at the start of the show and it repeats throughout, with everyone eventually joining in.”

The show is a collaboration of efforts from across NESCol. Music students and alumni from Scottish Culture & Traditions (SC&T) will be accompanying the cast live, while Technical Theatre NPA students are working on the set, lighting, sound effects and props.

Acting & Performance student, Coinneach Humphrey (19), said: “My favourite scene is with Lock and Sellar. It’s dark, about driving people off their land and replacing them with sheep, but it’s a fun, comedic song.

“It’s important to perform shows like this as we’re all Scottish and should be aware of our history. Our modern lives are affected by what happened between the 1750s and the 1970s.”

Tickets available now

Tickets are on sale for The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil at £15 for 14, 15 and 16 May 2024. The performance will be held in the theatre at NESCol’s Aberdeen City Campus.

To find out more and buy tickets, please visit the event page.