Jean Cain tells a good story – not all of them to do with dancing.
It’s 6 p.m. and we’re sitting in a dark and strangely quiet City Nightclub, waiting for rehearsals to begin for the National Theatre of Scotland’s groundbreaking show ‘Reasons to Dance’, which opens for a five-night run in the Princes Street club on tonight.
Slightly to her own surprise, 73-year-old Jean will be among those on stage.
She’s not an actress: the pensioner was one of the first to volunteer when the National Theatre of Scotland appealed for stories about dancing from people in Falkirk.
“I only agreed to give them some ideas,” she said. “I read in the Falkirk Herald that they wanted people’s memories of dancing and I thought that would be an end of it.”
Far from it. Jean is now one of a 74-strong community cast who will be appearing in the show, which has been created using interviews and answers to questionnaires from more than 1000 local people who shared their dancing experiences with the NTS creative team.
As we chat, Jean has everyone spellbound as she recalls her dancing days.
Her tales take us all back to Kerse Church youth club dances and the Leapark Hotel’s Saturday night club events then ballroom competitions in the Kelvin Hall and, of course, evenings in the legendary Doak’s Ballroom in Falkirk.
So, it’s not surprising to hear Jean’s stories were so brilliant – and the way she tells them so compelling – that co-directors Gillian Gourlay and Philippa Tomlin felt they had to persuade her to take part in the show itself.
If Jean was worried about what lay ahead when she joined the cast, she was soon reassured.
“Everthing about the show is professional, other than the cast.” says Gillian. “But they are totally supported by professionals.”
They’ve come a long way in seven months, since The Falkirk Herald first reported on this unique project.
The big question then for the team was “how do we find the stories?”.
From playgroups to pensioners’ clubs – including a night spent talking to clubbers in City – they toured the district looking for the best stories.
Said co-director Philippa: “We’ve found that when you ask people something fun – for instance, tell us about getting ready to go out – they’d just open up.”
Eventually, Gillian spent a day at home writing what would form the basis of the script. Separately, Philippa did the same thing and they were stunned by the results.
“It was almost eerie how similar they were,” says Philippa. “The stories that want to be told will always fight for attention and get themselves into the script.
“At the first read-through, people like Jean were there and we weren’t sure how they’d respond. But they loved it and that’s a brilliant feeling because it means you’ve chosen the right stories.”
As opening night looms, there are nerves jangling – but there is also a sense that this is an opportunity they can’t wait to take.
“It’s scary, but exciting!” says Jamie McGuckin (21), from Bo’ness, who is one of the few male participants.
Wendy Ross, who also lives in Falkirk and is playing the role of the DJ agrees. She is a member of the group Stitch and Bitch, which meets in Falkirk Library, and as a former drama student she was intrigued when NTS came to talk to them.
“At first I thought ‘that sounds good’,” said Wendy. “But I didn’t realise it was going to be this massive thing and we’d be on the BBC ‘Culture Show’ and everything!”
Another group who have relished the chance to work with top professionals – including getting an impromptu dance lesson from Arlene Phillips as we reported last week – are the young members of NRG dance school.
Last September, co-owners Sheila Morrison and Louisa Ross got in touch with NTS, asking if they could be involved, and Gillian and Philippa were impressed enough to firstly invite Sheila and Lousia to choreograph the opening number, then ask their students to perform it.
“They’ve all loved being involved,” said Sheila. “It’s a fantastic opportunity!”
For everyone involved, it’s been an amazing experience to watch the show evolve.
Reasons to go and see it? Wendy laughs: “It’s the National Theatre of Scotland – they’ve got Alan Cumming playing Macbeth in one production and on the other hand you can see them for free in Falkirk! What more do you need to know?”