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Fringe Online 2023

Urban Nan

Firebrand Theatre Company

Genre: Audio Play, Biographical Drama

Venue: Pitlochry Festival Theatre Sound Stage 

Festival: ,

Low Down

The final part of the trilogy, preceded by Nan Makes History and Nan in Love is the curated culmination of Nan Shepherd’s story. We are taken round Edinburgh where our guides direct our ears to the sounds and our imaginations to the sights of the final years in Nan’s time and her embrace of the urban setting in which she found her teaching. From being asked to stand still and then be taken by our guides along the significant parts of Edinburgh, this is more of a walking tour than a dramatic investigation.


Having enthusiastically embraced the first two podcasts, there was something missing from the final one. And in a way that disappointment is tempered by the quality of what this delivers. This is like a virtual walking tour taken along with two very qualified and enthusiastic guides. What is missing is the frequently dramatic interludes and voice of Nan and her answers to an upstart interviewer asking awkward questions. It is testimony to the quality of the beginning, that I was missing the voice of Nan by the end. Oh, she does appear, but in less frequent interludes than before.

The lack of drama removes the frisson of conflict which can truly motor a narrative, and here that makes it more of a travelogue than a dramatic offering. And to be fair, it’s a really good one.

I know Edinburgh, mainly through the Fringe so the tour had me imagining places where the venues are and from Greyfriar’s Bobby to the Grassmarket, having left the National Library of Scotland and the Royal Mile, I had the thing very clear. The others were less clear but actually I felt all the better for that – I was trying hard to keep up!

There is a narrative told between our two guides, Richard Baron and Ellie Zeegen, which tells the tale of a remarkable woman who taught people how to teach. Having been a sensation in a literary sense, you would be forgiven for thinking that teaching was aw blaw but her dedication to her students, and to the enlargement of their experiences, was less fanciful than Jean Brodie but with mair flair.

The acceptance and delights of the Fringe, that imagined first discussion, and Shepherd’s relationship with it sparkles things into life as we hear of her plans and having the damned impudence of putting off someone who would only want the high end material whilst Shepherd wanted the Avant Garde, the dangerous, the experimental. It is here we hear that distinctive and authoritative voice of unreasonable vigour and experimentation, and I valued the contrast to the muted walking tour guidance. It is that juxtaposition which made the difference.

By the end, ironically perhaps, I felt more educated about this long forgotten and oft ignored great. It was not just her contribution to the literature of my country but the contribution to the education and minds of those who required to be expanded by her teaching. She came across not as a genius but as a genial proponent of doing what others might not have done, because by doing it, you do something worthwhile – push boundaries and expand expectations. It left me with the feeling that if she encountered boundaries, she would break glass ceilings to get at them.

But I was not here to marvel at Shepherd but to listen and judge the wrapping paper of the podcasts and having initially felt I would not be as enthusiastic of this as I was of the others, it convinced me that this was the right way to end our journey. The quality of the audio continues to make it worthwhile and the performances of our guides – authoritative and gentile – was the right quality to match that which had gone before. Of course, I wanted more Nan Shepherd – you’d think I couldn’t go and order a book or two… Or perhaps even better would be a live experience…

And funny you should say that…