Media Release: Major new stage version of classic adventures on The Vital Spark – at Eden Court, Inverness


Eden Court and Open Book Proudly Present Para Handy – A Voyage Round the Stories of Neil Munro

Written and directed by John Bett

Original music by Robert Pettigrew

Starring Jimmy Chisholm, designed by Annette Gillies

Major new stage version of classic adventures on The Vital Spark sets sail 21st September, Eden Court, Inverness

EDEN Court Theatre, Inverness and Open Book are delighted to announce Para Handy – A Voyage Round The Stories of Neil Munro, a major new production of Neil Munro’s Para Handy tales, adapted and directed for the stage by renowned Scottish actor John Bett.

The irrepressible captain of the puffer The Vital Spark and his ramshackle crew are some of Scotland’s best-loved and enduring characters; indeed, Neil Munro’s stories have never out of print since they first appeared in the Glasgow Evening News in 1906.

This original and unforgettable 21st century take on the adventures of Para Handy, his mate Dougie, engineer Macphail and cabin-boy Sunny Jim travels from a West Coast breakers’ yard through the canals to the sea lochs of the Highlands and Islands, and sets sail for a nationwide tour from its departure point in Inverness.

Taking the role of the eponymous captain will be one of Scotland’s most popular actors, Inverness’s own Jimmy Chisholm.

Jimmy is a hugely familiar face thanks to screen roles in High Road, Braveheart and Mrs Brown and stage credits including Be Near Me and The Miracle Man (National Theatre of Scotland), The 39 Steps (London West End) and Macbeth and Trumpets and Raspberries (Lyceum, Edinburgh).

John Bett – recently seen on stage in Communicado’s award-winning The Government Inspector and on the big screen in Tamara Drewe and The Golden Compass   is reveling in the opportunity to bring the crew of The Vital Spark to life.

“I am having huge fun translating these tales into a theatrical context and trying to conjure that vanished world on stage through music, song and even film,” he says.

Brimming with wit and charm, Para Handy – A Voyage Round the Stories of Neil Munro brings back to life the lost world of the River Clyde in its hey-day; a time when its piers and harbours saw traffic of goods and supplies, day trippers ‘going doon the watter’ and the puffers bringing everything from coal to cows (and even the occasional cockatoo) to the communities of the Highlands and Islands.

Andrew Dixon, chief executive, Creative Scotland, said: “Commissioned and developed here in the Highlands, this new production of Para Handy will introduce the wily Master Mariner and his crew to a new generation of audiences across Scotland.

“Creative Scotland’s Rural Innovation programme in the Highland Arts Programme focuses on work that originates and is produced in the region and directly supports our aim of investing in talent.”

Joining Jimmy onstage will be a terrific ensemble cast plus a band playing fantastic, foot-tapping live music from celebrated composer, Robert Pettigrew; Para Handy’s misadventures across Scotland will be as uproarious, engaging and entertaining in 2011 as they were more than 100 years ago.

All aboard The Vital Spark!

Full tour dates

Eden Court, Inverness

Wednesday 21st – Saturday 24th September

Tickets on sale now Tel: 01463 234 234

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

Tuesday 27th September – Saturday 1st October

Tickets on sale now Tel: 01224 641 122

Glasgow Theatre Royal

Tuesday 4th – Saturday 8th October

Tickets on sale now Tel: 0844 871 7627

Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Thursday 13th – Saturday 15th October

Tickets on-sale 22nd April Tel: 0131 529 6000

Press Launch- 11th May 11.30am, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Writer John Bett and star, Jimmy Chisholm, will officially launch Para Handy- A Voyage Round The Stories Of Neil Munro with a photocall and interview opportunity at Inverness on Wednesday 11th May at 11.30am.

Press Night is at Eden Court, Inverness on Thursday 22nd September.

To RSVP for press launch and / or press night, arrange review tickets, company interviews, hi-res images please contact either Ruth Marsh on 0782 4468396 / or Laurie Piper on 01463 239841/

Editor’s notes

Para Handy – A Voyage Round the Stories of Neil Munro is a new stage version by John Bett, produced by Eden Court and Open Book and funded by the Highland Culture Strategic Board as part of the Highland Arts Programme.

The show will open at Eden Court on 21st September before visiting His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen; Edinburgh Festival Theatre and Theatre Royal, Glasgow.

“The Para Handy stories are true Scottish gems and the opportunity to revive and ‘revitalise’ Neil Munro’s classic tales of The Vital Spark was just too good to pass up” said Eden Court artistic director, Colin Marr.

“We are delighted to be working with Open Book productions and with John Bett and Inverness’s own Jimmy Chisholm. The investment provided by Creative Scotland’s Rural Innovation Fund through the Highland Arts Programme was key to unlocking these stories for another generation of theatre-goers.

“I am sure that the people of Scotland, and especially Inverness and the Highlands will grasp this chance to enjoy what will be a Fantastic production, with a hugely talented director and cast.”

Said Aberdeen Performing Arts chief executive, Duncan Hendry: “We are delighted to be bringing Eden Court’s production of Para Handy to His Majesty’s Theatre.

“I remember the television series from many years ago and I can’t wait to see the stage version and to working with Jimmy Chisholm and John Bett again.”

John Stalker, chief executive at Edinburgh Festival Theatre, said: “We are delighted that Para Handy will be visiting the Festival Theatre – it is the ‘vital spark’ in our autumn season!”

A spokesperson for The Theatre Royal, Glasgow, added: “We are delighted to be welcoming Para Handy back ‘doon the watter’ to Glasgow and a temporary ‘new port’ at Theatre Royal in this new adaptation of Neil Munro’s Para tales.

“The Vital Spark and its crew have been a staple of Glasgow culture since the stories first appeared in 1906 and it is rather exciting that we have an opportunity to introduce the character to a whole new audience here in the city where it all began.”

About Para Handy

Para Handy has been sailing his way into the affections of generations of Scots since he first weighed anchor in the pages of the Glasgow Evening News nearly a hundred years ago. The Master Mariner and his crew – Dougie the Mate, Macphail the Engineer, Sunny Jim and The Tar – all play their part in evoking the irresistible atmosphere of a bygone age when puffers sailed between West Highland ports and the great city of Glasgow.

Written by Neil Munro under the pen name of Hugh Foulis, the first of the hilarious Para Handy stories was published in 1905 in the ‘Looker On’ column of the Glasgow Evening News and Munro continued writing these for most of his working life.

He published them in three book collections: The Vital Spark (1906), In Highland Harbours (1911), and Hurricane Jack of the Vital Spark(1923).

Para Handy’s adventures have also been welcomed into the living rooms of generations of Scots thanks to television adaptations in 1959 with Duncan Macrae and 1994 with Gregory Fisher.

About Neil Munro

(born June 1863 Inveraray, Scotland – died December 1930)

The novelist, poet and journalist Neil Munro (1863-1930) was the illegitimate son of a kitchen maid and many believe his father to be a member of the aristocratic Argyll family. After he left Inveraray School at 13, he worked in the office of the Sheriff-Clerk of Argyll, before leaving the Highlands to pursue a career in journalism in 1881.

A short story collection, The Lost Pibroch and Other Sheiling Stories appeared in 1896 and his first novel, John Splendid, was published in 1898.

This was followed by a number of historical novels all exploring the impact of change within the Highlands. Doom Castle (1901) and The New Road (1914) focus on the contrast between the Highlands and the South of Scotland, the Gaelic speakers and the English.

Both his mother and grandmother were Gaelic speakers and Munro’s affection for the language is perceptible.

It is used for terms of endearment and emotion and runs throughout the novels.

Munro speaks of the Highlands as one who laments the changes while understanding the benefits. Such novels were acknowledged as prime models of the genre.

Munro went on to achieve worldwide fame. In his prime he was editor of the Glasgow Evening News and was generally regarded as being a senior figure in contemporary Scottish criticism and a dominating presence in Scottish letters.

He wrote on European art, Glasgow policies and the Highlands, providing a first hand commentary on the Scottish social situation.

He saw Glasgow as being the second city of the Empire with the importance of the Clyde Ships, Charles Rennie MackIntosh and the Great Exhibition.

Around 1902 Munro retired from full-time journalism, but continued a weekly column in the News which was to prove extremely popular with the readers.

There were three light-hearted short stories published under the name ‘Hugh Foulis’ (a pseudonym which functioned to distinguish these from his more serious work) ErchieMy Droll Friend(1904)Jimmy Swanthe Joy Traveller (1923)and Para Handy Tales (1958).

He made a temporary return to full-time journalism during World War One. However, sadly he lost his son, Hugh, in the war and after this he was to produce little new material.

Munro is major writer who has been underestimated in recent years and is now best known for stories in his newspaper column.

Despite being described as ‘the apostolic successor of Sir Walter Scott’, Munro’s reputation suffered posthumously, the archaic style of the novels playing some part in this.

He is buried in Kilmalieu Cemetery, Inveraray and a monument to his memory was erected in Glen Aray in 1935.

About Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Eden Court is the theatre and entertainment venue for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. From its base in Inverness, the theatre presents a year-round programme of live theatre, music, comedy, ballet and opera, in addition to a full programme of classes and activities and cinema screenings. Eden Court operates one of the largest and most extensive arts education programmes of any UK theatre. Eden Court was extensively redeveloped in 2007 and consists an 840-seat main house, a 240-seat studio theatre, two cinemas, two dance studios and a number of conference and meeting spaces.

About Open Book

Open Book is dedicated to connecting communities separated by geography, history and language through the arts, through the celebration of diversity and through the promotion of local cultures and approaches nationally and internationally.

The company is committed to working with emerging artists, to promoting awareness of local cultures across Scotland and to developing links between arts organisations across different parts of Scotland.

Since 2009, Open Book has toured five new plays in Scotland with a particular emphasis on the Highlands and taken two plays to London including the highly successful The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer by Iain Heggie.

Open Book has just toured a new production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to schools and communities in the north of Scotland. Romeo and Juliet was seen by over 620 people in the course of nine performances in Ullapool, Gairloch, Inverness, Wick and Bettyhill.

This audience included the whole of Gairloch and Farr High Schools.

This production directed by Marcus Roche and starring Liam Brennan also pioneered an innovative use of social networking sites as an educational tool which will become standard for all Open Book productions.

In summer 2011, the company will be touring a new production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This production will be one of the first to receive support from the new North of Scotland Touring Fund.

About The Highland Arts Programme

Para Handy – A Voyage Round the Stories of Neil Munro is part of the Highland Arts Programme, a suite of six projects across a range of artforms, commissioned by the Highland Culture Strategic Board. The board comprises representatives of each of Scotland’s public bodies with a responsibility for culture in the Highlands. The Highland Culture Programme is partnership funded by Creative Scotland, through their Rural Innovation Fund, the Highland Council and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

Highland Council’s Convener, Sandy Park, chair of the Highland Culture Strategic Board, commented: “I am delighted that the Highland Culture Strategic Board, bringing together as it does all the main bodies with remits to develop culture in the Highlands, has been instrumental in enabling nationally significant theatre to be produced in the Highlands.”

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Contact: Laurie Piper
Phone: 01463 732673