A Souvenir of Great Yarmouth

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Don’t miss this first broadcast in English of A Souvenir of Great Yarmouth, on Isles FM on Monday May 13th at 6pm. The play, by Eric John MacDonald, is performed by Maggie Smith and tells the life story of Mairi, now in her 70s and resident in a care unit, as she looks back to her younger days as one of the Herring Girls.

Based on extensive interviews with the last surviving Herring Girls, the play incorporates traditional songs and visual imagery into the telling of a life story. Maggie Smith said: “We have been working on this since September 2010, and have found that audiences like the play as it is about them and the community they live in. We have been to several community groups in Lewis, particularly the over-60s groups, and the discussion afterwards brought stories, reminiscences, phrases and songs, even artefacts to light. I also took the play to Great Yarmouth maritime festival and the audience there identified with it, while in Lochinver I had a meeting with a real herring girl who felt “her story” was being told. At the Oral Tradition Festival in the isle of Jura I had an incredible response, but the Lewis audiences are the ones we really want to share this story with.”

In Tony Henk’s new production of the play, he introduced Gaelic incidental music, both sung and played on the melodeon, an additional voice reciting passages from the Bible and various sound effects. Some of the seascape images had to be assembled from a number of separate individual effects.

Tony said: “Maggie’s part was recorded in one continuous session in which she really lived the part, performing from memory and giving a totally convincing characterisation which shines through in the final production. The songs, Bible Readings and music were all recorded in separate sessions and melded into the final edit. The result is compelling listening, quite moving at times and very informative about the conditions in which the herring girls had to live and work. In short, it forms excellent radio.”

Margaret MacLeman provides the Gaelic songs, Donald (Dol) Macdonald the melodeon music and Anne Macdonald the Bible extracts. The continuity announcements are read by David Nash and this new radio programme is produced by Tony Henk. The principal actor is Maggie Smith, of Lochs. The play has been performed in Gaelic and English at venues throughout the islands including Stornoway, Shawbost, Carloway, Ness and Eriskay.