The Shetland Diary: November 2017

by Alastair Hamilton -

I’ve observed in the past that anyone moving to Shetland ought to budget for a bigger diary, and November’s programme of events underlines that. There’s a remarkable range of things to see and hear, and of course the islands’ great outdoors is there for us all to enjoy, too.

In Weisdale, the Bonhoga Gallery is showing an exhibition of contemporary applied art and craft from Shetland and the UK, creating a seasonal atmosphere in the gallery as the nights draw in. It includes lighting, contemporary textiles, ceramics, prints, wood and jewellery. And it’s all for sale, so some Christmas shopping is clearly on the cards. It runs until 12 November.

WordPlay, Shetland’s literary festival, gets under way on the 2nd and offers a great line-up of authors and events. The guests include Judy Murray, author of Knowing the Score: Our Family and Our Tennis, award winning Scottish poet and playwright Liz Lochhead, Scottish novelist and social commentator Christopher Brookmyre, The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee and David Walker and many more. There’s more about the festival in last month’s blog post.

Amateur drama has always been popular in Shetland and the local drama groups set a high standard. This time, from the 9th to the 11th, the Islesburgh Drama Group is staging a production of Blue Stockings, a first play by Jessica Swale. The piece is set in Girton College, Cambridge, in 1896, and chronicles the hurdles that four young women faced against the prejudice of the times, including the distractions of love, the cruelty of the class divide or the strength of the opposition, who will do anything to stop them. The play follows them over one tumultuous academic year, in their fight to change the future of education. Despite studying ferociously and matching their male peers grade for grade, the women leave with nothing but the stigma of being a 'blue stocking' - an unnatural, educated woman. Given the recent concern about the geographical and ethnic selectivity of Oxbridge colleges, this feels like a highly topical dramatic offering.

If the selling exhibition at Bonhoga leaves folk with some gaps on the Christmas list, the annual Shetland Craft Fair at the Clickimin Centre, over the weekend of 10th -12th November, is the place to be. A large event featuring all manner of entirely local art and craft work, it encompasses everything from painting to jewellery, woodwork to photography, some wonderful knitwear and other textiles, and a great deal more. It’s organised by the Shetland Arts and Crafts Association, whose members create some really beautiful things.

Music is never off the menu in Shetland, whether it’s The Stray Birds at WordPlay on the 4th, the Shetland Mandolin Band with Haltadans and the High level Hot Club on the 11th or the Edinburgh String Quartet on the 15th. All these events are at Mareel, Shetland’s arts centre.

The 30-strong Shetland Mandolin Band has proved to be a popular addition to the local music scene, having entertained audiences at both the 2016 and 2017 Shetland Folk Festivals as well as a few smaller events. Playing a varied mix of contemporary and traditional music from around the world, the band is looking forward to hosting its own concert this time, and will be ably supported by fiddle favourites Haltadans as well as the emerging young talent of the High Level Hot Club.

The Edinburgh String Quartet will be performing an emotionally-charged programme featuring the most intense of Haydn’s Op 20 quartets; a work by Janácek, “Intimate Letters”, described as his “Manifesto on Love”; and Tchaikovsky’s second quartet, regarded by the composer in the year it was written as his finest work. The concert will also feature a new quartet by Tom Harrold as part of the Edinburgh Quartet’s “North-South-East-West” Project in which the Quartet will be joined on stage by local amateur string players.

Shetland has attracted a long line of nationally-known comedians over the past few years and next up is Sara Pascoe, on 18th November. We learn from the press release that Sara is enjoying a year-long, one-woman stag do. In spiritual retreats, city breaks, life drawing classes and football matches, “she has been drunk and lonely everywhere.” Following a sell-out live tour of Animal (inspired by her acclaimed book of the same name), the multiple award-winning comedian and star of Live at The Apollo, Mock the Week, QI and Taskmaster, is coming to Shetland for the first time with a brand-new stand-up show, which we are promised is the “best ever”; or, as the Evening Standard put it, the “hilarious confessions of a forensic mind.”

Mareel offers two cinemas – really good ones, with a proper rake so you don’t have to peer round someone’s head and the sort of comfortable seating for which you’d pay a premium in some of the shoebox multiplexes to be found elsewhere. All the best mainstream offerings appear, but November’s programme also includes some more unusual features.

On the 1st, there’s Loving Vincent – an animated, fully hand-painted animated feature exploring the life and controversial death of Vincent van Gogh. From the 2nd, the many fans of Jo Nesbø’s thrillers can watch The Snowman, a superb adaptation directed by Tomas Alfredson. On the 5th, there’s another chance to watch Benedict Cumberbatch in that 2015 National Theatre Live productionof Hamlet, which the Time Out reviewer called “one of the most visually and atmospherically stunning productions I’ve seen, of anything, ever”.

Towards the end of the month, there’s Kenneth Branagh’s sumptuous new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express, with a cast that includes Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley and Willem Dafoe. Also showing then will be Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, a beguiling and genuinely moving romantic drama, starring Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, and based on a true story. Linked with that is a showing of The Big Heat, the classic 1953 film noir starring Gloria Grahame alongside Glenn Ford.

On the 26th, the series of “exhibitions on screen” continues with a feature on David Hockney at the Royal Academy of Arts, with interviews and a look at two blockbuster exhibitions held in 2012 and 2016 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

That does all make for a pretty full diary; and of course there are, every month, many other community-based events throughout Shetland. There’s more about the events at Mareel, Bonhoga and the Garrison Theatre on the Shetland Arts listings page.

Posted in: Creative Scene