This hilarious play is set in the summer of 1974 amid the berry fields of Kirriemuir, and follows a day in the life of four Dundee ‘nabblers’ (pickers) as they toil and graft under the watchful eye of the no-nonsense foreman Rab. In order to distract themselves from the hard work, they enter into uproarious bouts of raw working class humour where the language is as rough as a harlin wall. Each character is very unique and tells a story of the hard and colourful background of the streets where they live. However, will the day end in such cheery spirits?
We were very excited to hear that Gary Robertson’s play “The Berries” would get a new outing at Dundee Rep. Best known to readers of this blog as the lead singer of The Cundeez, Gary is also a poet and playwright — and now an actor, too, as he took on the role of the curmudgeonly foreman and did a fine job, too.
As we joined the crowd Saturday night, Mark pointed out that the audience didn’t have the posh look often associated with “the theatre” — indeed many looked like they had come direct from a Cundeez gig. There was a relaxed and light-hearted atmosphere of celebration that suited the show.
Having been steeped in the “oary” lingo for some time now, I had no trouble following along with the fast-paced dialogue, but some of the local (and historical) references went right past me, while most of the audience howled at the mention of old haunts. The music was spot on — it’s magical how instantly it evokes a lost time. During the interval Mark told me how the Bay City Rollers had been the house band for a time in a Dundee club, so there was an additional layer of humour attached to their name.
All the cast was terrific. Sue Robertson gave “Mad Helen” a tough exterior with plenty of attitude, although her bravado was instantly undone by her terror of wasps. Heidi Cathro’s Betty was more easy going in all kinds of ways, but she also had a dogged determination the bubbly exterior masked. Kenny Cathro infused the fist-ready Davey with a wee bit of vulnerability that almost made you think that he could overcome his father’s bad example and the constant press of dire circumstances and survive. Alan Christensen embodied the good-time loving Eck with a breezy obliviousness that reminded me of some of the characters Mark Williams played in The Fast Show. Ambition? That’s for someone else. The two young nabblers played by Bradley Vannet and Ethan Cathro (yes, the cast was a bit of a family affair, eh?) offered some diversion between scenes — and occasionally some berries for the audience.
I love the program, which thanks to DC Thomson, looked like a small issue of the Evening Telegraph. The paper even provided some archival photos of folks nabblin’ in the dreels. And Gary always gives back, too: there were buckets in the hands of all the docents collecting for local charity. Good stuff.