James Hogg expert Dr Valentina Bold writes about the first performance of James Hogg’s play in 200 years.
On December the 2nd, James Hogg’s play ‘The Royal Jubilee’ will be performed for the first time. Written on the occasion of George IV’s pomposity-filled visit to Edinburgh, in 1822, it is filled with ambivalence – something that has extra resonance in this British Jubilee year. Unlike Walter Scott, who relished and orchestrated the visit, Hogg was clearly uncomfortable with these events.
The play brings together dramatis personae including Spirits of the Gaeltachdt and the Covenant. Through this, Hogg takes the (perhaps) surprising stance in one song, at least, that George IV should be grateful for the loyalty of Scotland, and the military service of Highlanders, particularly, given the Hanoverian response to Jacobitism. Hogg’s Fairy Queen serenades the king in a song set to ‘Killiecrankie’.
There is a great deal of humour here too – not surprisingly given Hogg’s ability to capture the absurd, in his best known works The Confessions of a Justified Sinner. With an element of self-parodying his ‘Ettrick Shepherd’ persona, he features a range of supernatural creatures, from mermaids to ghosts to the fairies, all assembled – and jostling for position – to welcome this king; are they confused? Do they think a Stuart is coming?
The cast in this modern reading is perfect: Sheena Wellington as Genius of Holyrood, Dolina Maclennan as Genius of the Gael, Jo Miller as the Spirit of the Covenanters, Ajay Close as Queen of the Fairies and Kirsteen McCue as Genius of the Ocean. There are songs and, alongside the comic moment, thoughtful interludes. This is James Hogg at his playful best – concealing barbs within fluff, enjoying the opportunity to confuse the establishment. Be there if you can!