When playwright Ali Milles went on a holiday to the Croft, a large detached house set in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, the experience he had was “pretty Spartan” — the weather was bad, the electrics unreliable, and the atmosphere eerie and peculiar.
The experience is what translated into his début play. His characters Enid and Eilene’s weekend getaway too takes an unexpected turn in the Crofters Hut, which lies in Collie Ghillie, a deserted village in the remote Scottish Highlands.
Completely cut off from the modern world, his protagonists find themselves intertwined with the dark history of the Croft and the lives that passed before them.
Directed by Philip Franks, Ali Milles’ The Croft, is now available to a global audience — the play, produced by The Original Theatre Company and Blank Slate, will be up for online viewing on Book My Show.
“The play has as its germ or seed, a holiday visit that the author made to the Croft — the geography is real, the building is real. There are many stories of families displaced in the Highland Clearances, most of them true. It was a harsh and brutal time and many people were forcibly rehoused, made homeless and hounded to their deaths by greedy landowners,” says the director Philip. “The story is a fictional construct of these events though Ali insists that it is a true story,” adds Philip.
The narrative travels through three time schemes. The characters often traverse between these over the course of an evening. Philip says that though this appears complicated, it is the central image of the play. “The idea being that a ‘ghost’ is an experience so vivid that it imprints itself upon the walls around it and sometimes affects people living in the same place. The people in the play are trapped in cycles of mistrust and destruction,” adds Philip. The play concentrates on courage and love between the characters, who can break this cycle. “It’s really up to the scale of the actors to tell the audience which time period we are in. We don’t have any scenic changes although music and lighting helped considerably,” says Philip.
He believes that the play is neither a thriller nor a horror story though it has elements of both. “I would rather describe it as an emotional ghost story.”
The play resorts to a low-tech approach when it comes to stage settings. Giving a quick insight into what it will be like, Philip adds, “No electronics, no holograms, no fancy machinery: A lot of tricks, certainly, but there’s a lot you can do with fishing wire and a stage manager in black clothes to make an audience jump.”
British TV favourite, Gwen Taylor, plays Enid, ‘the dark heart of the play’. “We needed somebody with weight, strength, violence and humanity and in Gwen we have it,” says Philip.
The Croft relies heavily on its music and choreography. The music uses various Scottish folk tunes, each representing a particular strand of the story. Philip adds, “The choreography comes into its own when the piece moves completely into the realm of the supernatural — time speeds up, slows down, scenes seem to play on top of each other. This is achievable only with careful choreography.”
The Croft will stream on BookMyShow Online from July 3-5 at 7 pm daily. Tickets at ₹499 on www.bookmyshow.com