Shrapnel - An Urban Contemporary Adventure

Shrapnel production image. Photo: Theatre Gu Leor

Theatre Gu Leòr with Tron Theatre and An Lanntair present Shrapnel, on tour across Scotland from 11 March to 2 April.

Shrapnel by Catriona Lexy Chaimbeul is the adaption of the seminal Gaelic novel of the same title by renowned novelist and Catriona’s father, the late Tormod Caimbeul. Set in Edinburgh’s underbelly, the play follows the journey of an enigmatic narrator as he tries to evade capture for a crime he didn’t commit. Subtitled throughout, Shrapnel is fully accessible to both English and Gaelic speakers.

We caught up with Director Muireann Kelly to find out more about the production ahead of the tour opening on 11 March at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre.

What can audiences expect from Shrapnel?

A hugely unique piece of theatre, that’s at once very dark and very funny. It’s essentially a contemporary thriller about a man on the run for a crime he didn’t commit, but with a real streak of anarchic humour and surrealism throughout.

Set in Edinburgh’s underbelly, comparisons have been drawn with Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and it’s certainly that sense of the city that’s brought to life in the play. That Shrapnel is Edinburgh based is in itself unique and intriguing, with most Gaelic pieces being West Coast set.

Linguistically Shrapnel is a real treat, playing with Gaelic, English and Scots but made totally accessible for all audiences due to subtitling. Sound and music play a huge part in the play also, with everything from Gaelic song, to the Bay City Rollers to Italian opera soundscaping our narrator’s movements. Visually as well audiences can expect a lot, with a mix of projection, animation and video helping to tell the story.

So audiences can look forward to a very innovative, stylised and intriguing piece of contemporary theatre. 

Rehearsals for Shrapnel 

How do those audio and visual elements accentuate the piece?

As the play is set all across Edinburgh the visual elements really help to depict the various locations, and we shot video footage of places like Arthur’s Seat and Leith to create this sense of place.

Video and projection also gives us more creative licence when things start to head towards the surreal. So in the novel there’s a lot of use of flashback and dream sequence, which Catriona has stayed true to in the adaption and those visual elements help to ring those changes on stage and place the audience without relying on dialogue.

Sound wise, we are very excited to have worked with award-winning sound designer Matt Padden who’s done an incredible job at painting underbelly Edinburgh through his soundscape. Also, The League of Highland Gentlemen composed music for the piece, so that’s just another aural element that really helps us to build a sense of a Gael in Edinburgh.

Subtitling is also an essential element to the piece as accessibility is vital, and we’ve tried to ensure we present the best, most accurate translation we can. Equally we’ve really tried to ensure that our BSL (British Sign Language) performance (Saturday 12 March, Tron Theatre) is of the highest standard, and we’ve worked with BSL signer Catherine King to incorporate her in the piece, so she’ll be costumed and totally integrated as opposed to just standing at the side throughout. I think it’s vitally important to take accessibility on every level very seriously, both for us a company but also for theatre in Scotland generally.

SHRAPNEL TRAILER from Theatre Gu Leòr on Vimeo.

What were the challenges in bringing Shrapnel to the stage?

The novel is very much not a beginning, middle and end narrative and there are moments of just absolute surrealism, so for Catriona to adapt it for stage in a way that ensures the audience can follow the piece but also remains true to the original style was a huge challenge. She also had to whittle down hundreds of characters to just six, and nearly all of the actors play multiple parts, so again that’s a challenge. But these are challenges we’ve really risen to, honouring the novel while also thinking about how it’s going to work best as a piece of theatre.

Shrapnel’s tour takes in lots of different locations, why was this important?

We’ve had a huge amount of support from Creative Scotland, National Theatre of Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, and Shrapnel has been co-produced by the Tron and An Lanntair so it felt right to take the piece all across Scotland.

There were certain obvious places to take it, Edinburgh with it being set there and the Scottish Storytelling Centre was a natural fit because of the connection with Tormod, and Inverness as the heartland of Gaelic speakers. Equally though it was as important to take Shrapnel to places that aren’t necessarily obvious in terms of Gaelic, such as Aberdeen and Lossiemouth, because first and foremost we are a new writing theatre company commissioning exciting contemporary work, and it just happens that we work in Gaelic.

Of course it was very important we take the play to Lewis, Tormod’s native island, where the tour will culminate. We are very proud to present a final weeklong celebration of his work and passion for Gaelic and writing, with a series of workshops for primary schools inspired by his wonderful children’s books, for High Schools inspired by his novel Hostel and for those in the Lewis community interested in writing, adapting and performing.  At the end of this celebratory week we’ll present our final two performances of Shrapnel in the tour at An Lanntair.

Tour Dates

11-12 March Tron Theatre, Glasgow
15-16 March Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh 
17 March Eden Court, Inverness 
18 March Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
19 March Lossiemouth Town Hall, Moray
20 March Pavilion, Strathpeffer
22 March MacPhail Centre, Ullapool
23 March Plockton Hall, Plockton
24 March Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Skye
26 March Carinish Village Hall, North Uist
28 March Sgoil Bhàgh a’ Chaisteil, Barra
1-2 April An Lanntair, Stornoway

Find out more at

Theatre Gu Leòr received funding through Creative Scotland's Open Project Fund.

This article was published on 29 Feb 2016