The Viking presence in Scotland is well documented and words from the Norse language abound in place names including the somewhat redundant Glendale in which both “glen” and “dale” refer to roughly the same thing in two different languages.
It is however, in the very northern part of Scotland that the Viking influence is strongest in terms of its impact on cultural events. In this, the festival known as Up Helly Aa is probably the most dramatic and one most linked to the Viking times. It is significant that while people tend to think of the Vikings as being the population of Scandinavian countries, only a small number of Scandinavian peoples were Vikings. The root of the word is Vik which means “bay” (as occurs in Reykyavik meaning “Smokey Bay”). The Vikings were skilled sailors and the term “to Viking” meant to go on an expedition. And go they did. The Vikings traveled far and wide – as far as the New World well before Columbus and east to Russia, as well as North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
The influence in Scotland is quite impressive, but today, the most spectacular impact is the Up Helly Aa festival held annually in the Shetlands – those wonderful islands along with the Orkneys usually wind up in an inset on most maps of Scotland.
The Up Helly Aa is celebrated at the close of the yuletide season in 10 different locations, the largest celebration is held in Lerwick. Other places holding Up Helly Aa fire festivals are Scalloway, Nesting and Girlsta, Uyeasound, Northmavine, Bressay, Cullivoe, Norwick, the South Mainland and Delting. The festival there appears to have been an outgrowth of some earlier rituals in which young men dragged flaming barrels of tar through the streets causing enough mischief to outlaw “tar barreling” in the late 1870’s. In 1876 a substitute – a “torch lit parade” replaced the tar barreling and the torchers were carried by “guisers”. More than 1,000 torches appear in some places! The guisers are in “squads” or “groups” and each squad is thematically dressed in similar costumes.
There is a long history of people appearing in disguises especially throughout the colder months – starting with Halloween and running through Lent and the Easter season. They are associated also with the Mummers and the Mummers’ plays which are themselves of interest to many. One suspects that there appearance through the colder months is associated with the lack of the intensive food producing work of the other half of the year. Winter is often the time for game playing by many cultures in the world.
The torch light parade visits many places on it route and each squad performs its own “act”. The climax of the event comes when the torches are thrown into a large replica of a Viking galley, built specifically for this purpose, which is then set ablaze. As the fire dies down the guisers sing the song “The Norseman’s Home” and other songs.
Interview with Pauline Lockhart
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Glasgow-born actress Pauline Lockhart. She was articulate, informed and friendly. Besides being an award winning actress, she is a fine painter and has a 3rd Degree Blackbelt in Taekwon Do.
SN: What started you on the road to being an actress.
PL: I always just assumed I would be an actor, (with the exception of a brief desire around the age of 8, to be a tight-rope walker in the circus!).
SN: Was there any encouragement given in schools in Scotland growing up, towards the arts in general, but acting and the theater in general? In this country it used to be there were always what we called Drama Class – which everyone had to take but was a general sort of theater class. Personally I don’t remember any classes in high school here in America at all – other than drama clubs, etc. where one could take after class.
PL: There wasn't any particular encouragement or support from the school system, although there were some Drama classes and a fantastic Drama teacher who I still keep in touch with. I attended the Glasgow Youth Theatre outside of school and gained some valuable and fun experience that way. After leaving school, I attended a 1 year Theatre Arts course in Kirkcaldy and on completion of that, an Agent put me on her books and I started working professionally, I was 18.
SN: Does Scotland have a strong theatrical tradition. Certainly the English are well known for it, and the Irish, but less is said (outside of Scotland) about what is going on, inside the country.
PL: Scotland has a very strong theatrical tradition, perhaps more political and working class than in England. There have been many fine political plays and playwrights over the years with Theatre being used as an instrument of protest and change. Nowadays, however, there is a very rich and varied body of work being created by Scottish playwrights.
SN: Are there types of theater that the public in Scotland are more inclined to like, or are they open to everything. I always ask this of Scottish actors that I know: do you find that Scottish-based or Scottish written theater (with an obvious "Scottishness" that is) travels well, or is it perhaps considered too parochial?
PL: Scottish plays and productions with an obvious "Scottishness" often travel better further afield than to our more local neighbour, England. There have been many productions which have enjoyed huge success in Canada, Australia and New Zealand for example, where the very "Scottishness" has been an essential part of their success. The recent National Theatre of Scotland productions, such as "Black Watch" and "Once", have also been very successful internationally.
SN: Do you think there is a role for the government to play regarding helping the arts in Scotland. Do they now? Is there any interference with subject matter, etc., if so?
PL: Creative Scotland is the government funding body for the Arts in Scotland, it's the equivalent of the English Arts Council. While there is always a need for more arts funding, we haven't seen the same extent of funding cuts as experienced in England recently. However over the years many theatre companies have lost their funding and as a result, there are less plays being produced meaning less work for actors. I don't think it's possible to make a living from theatre in Scotland alone. Most actors work in various mediums; T.V, film, radio, role play training, as well as theatre.
SN: Do you think that film-acting, in general, is more difficult to do in one regard mainly because of the “bits and pieces” requirements that is often necessary to capturing a performance. You could literally be doing some very emotional scene, then asked to come back the next day to finish it – and have to work yourself back into that very same place.
PL: I don't think there's much essential difference in acting for theatre, T.V or film. There are technical requirements specific to each medium of course, but ultimately, acting is acting. Being able to recreate an emotion over and over for numerous takes or out of sequence on a film set, requires focus and a strong discipline, as does being able to recreate emotion and retain a freshness night after night during a long theatre run. To have a hope of earning a living in this business, I do believe you have to be able to adapt and expand your skills to be as versatile as possible.
SN: When you audition for a part that is not necessarily Scottish and not indicated one way or the other, do you speak with a different accent? Or do you ask before hand during any audition if they would prefer a particular accent.
PL: As an actor, it is sometimes a requirement of the piece, that you use an accent other than your own, I've personally performed in Standard English, French, American and various Scottish dialects. Outside of Scotland however, I have only ever been asked to be Scottish. It is very rare that a Scottish actor in England is employed to play anything other than a Scottish part. There are exceptions of course, but this seems to be the norm, unless you are a "name".
SN: This is probably more a rave than a question, but please to comment: Kubrick, when he took over filming of Spartacus, made sure that many of the Romans (but not all) spoke with English accents and all the slaves/gladiators were Americans. A stylistic choice I’m sure to separate the classes of people being depicted. In the film 300, starring Gerald Butler, people have often commented on his Scottish accent in the film – and fail to mention the English accents of nearly all the other Spartans. Perhaps they notice because it “pops out” from the others – but I wonder if ALL the actors in the film used Scottish accents, what would people have said? I don’t think they would have ignored it as most English speaking audiences do when they hear an English accent, no matter what the historical setting. My own thoughts are that the dominance of a type of “posh” English accent in motion pictures over the entire era of sound films, has enured us to it. Scots accents, even Irish, and rarely Welsh, have hardly ever graced our screens without the characters themselves being deliberately Scots or Irish or Welsh (if you get my meaning).
PL: Scotland, Ireland and Wales are small countries with a larger more powerful neighbour and have historically been dominated culturally by England. (As many cultures throughout the world have). In Scotland the speaking of Scots and even wearing the kilt was banned at one point! So I don't think it's surprising that English accents dominate in film and are accepted as the norm. As I say, there are deep historical roots to this and won't change over night. Of course we'll always have Sean Connery proudly employing his Scottish accent, even when playing a Russian!
SN: Where do you think theater in Scotland is headed and where would you like to see it go.
PL: Theatre in Scotland is going through some changes just now, particularly in how it is funded. Yet there is such a rich pool of talent and a strong creative community, that I feel confident in the ability of Scottish Theatre to forge new paths and continue to create exciting innovative theatre for the 21st century.
To find out more about Pauline and to see her list of acting credits; videos and voice-over reels (and samples of her art-work), please do check out her webpage