The Times, June 10, 2008
The setting was unlikely enough, a large barn in the middle of the East Lothian countryside. The music was even more unusual, a new orchestral work with a narrative supplied by a Hollywood film star. But then, a piece with the grand title of Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift was always likely to make a name for itself.
Happily for all concerned, the cheering response of 400 school children to this one-off performance at Skateraw farm by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and the actor Billy Boyd, demonstrated that there may be life yet in classical music.
Misterstourworm is a collaboration between Savourna Stevenson, the harpist and composer, and Stuart Paterson, the Fife-based playwright who, for more than 20 years, has adapted children's myths and legends for the stage.
The work is the result of what Stevenson called a “life-changing” grant of £25,000 made by Creative Scotland in 2001.
It enabled the couple to create a tale set in a mythical Scotland in which a young hero embarks on a magical quest to free his people from a fearsome, fire-breathing sea monster, Misterstourworm.
Boyd, who played Peregrin “Pippin” Took in Peter Jackson's feature-film adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien novel Lord of the Rings, has long been a friend of Paterson. The playwright gave him his big break in Scottish theatre by casting him as Arthur in a Christmas production of The Sword in the Stone. He said that he had been “flattered and delighted” to be asked to narrate the performance.
Stevenson and Paterson said they had been keen to create a work in the mould of Peter and the Wolf, and originally turned to the Greek myths for inspiration. “We wanted a story where we felt there was something underneath - it's not all surface. But we also felt we had been given a grant to do something Scottish, we need to do something that felt like a real Scottish myth,” Mr Paterson said.
They fell on the tale of the stoorworm, which was said to have been as long as Scotland, and whose humps became the islands off the West Coast after its death. They added Kelpies, alluring and magical but deadly creatures, and set events in the fictitious land of Tiree.
The two had first worked together in 1986 on the writer's reworking of Beauty and the Beast for the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. “I wanted proper music for that, not rink-a-dink panto music, and she was perfect - Savourna is a delightfully talented composer, and she played it live.”
In that production, the music had been less important than the script, Ms Stevenson said. “Stuart always regarded the music as important to the show, but it inevitably gets squeezed out to the edge. In a piece of theatre it is secondary. Stuart and I always thought if I followed the story closely enough, we should be able to take the words away and the music would still hold up,” she added.
The success of the project can be measured by yesterday's album release of the music, by Circular Records, a company established with assistance from the Scottish government's Scottish Music Futures Fund, to help to protect musicians' and composers' intellectual property rights.
Mr Paterson has recently completed a screenplay entitled Master of Lies for the film director Nic Roeg, and hopes that a film may attract funding. However, before his work finally hits the big screen, Hansel and Gretel, a second orchestral collaboration between Stevenson and Paterson, will be premiered this Christmas.