Edinburgh Festival Fringe first for Tartan Pimpernel play
Published on 30 July 2019
A play about the wartime exploits of a Church of Scotland minister is being performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time.
The Tartan Pimpernel tells the story of Rev Dr Donald Caskie who helped save more than 2,000 allied service personnel from the clutches of the Nazis.
Actor Graeme Dallas, who plays the eponymous minister, said the play, which is on at the Hill Street Theatre from August 2-11, brings to life the true story of one of Scotland’s greatest unsung heroes.
He added that it was a great opportunity for people to learn about the gentle but steely man of God’s incredible contribution to the war effort.
Mr Dallas said: “I am really looking forward to projecting this fascinating story at the Fringe for the first time.
“It is great to be able to bring it out into the light.”
Dr Caskie, who was known as the Tartan Pimpernel, was leading the Scots Kirk in Paris when the Germans invaded France in 1940.
He denounced the Nazis from his pulpit and fled to Marseille in the south of the country where he ran a Seaman's Mission.
Dr Caskie lived a double life and helped British and Allied soldiers to freedom across mountains into Spain.
He was eventually recruited by British Intelligence officers and was told that his mission was the last link of a chain of safe houses that they had set up, which stretched from the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France to Marseille in the south.
With nothing to trust but God and his instincts, the crofter's son from Islay in the Inner Hebrides operated in the Seaman's Mission for many months until he was betrayed by a traitor.
Dr Caskie was eventually arrested by the Vichy Police, interrogated and banished from Marseille.
Instead of returning to safety in the UK, he moved to Grenoble where he continued to arrange for the escape of soldiers, seamen and airmen under the cover of being a university chaplain.
Dr Caskie, who ignored repeated calls from British Intelligence and the Church of Scotland to return home, was betrayed and imprisoned by the Gestapo and sentenced to death.
His life was only saved through the intervention of a German pastor and he spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War camp.
The three-man play was written by John Hughes who was inspired to write about Dr Caskie’s exploits after reading about the return of the minister’s Gaelic Bible to the Scots Kirk.
It has been performed at venues across the west of Scotland including Bowmore on Islay where Dr Caskie was buried following his death in 1983 at the age of 81.
Mr Dallas said: “It has been fascinating and we have met lots of members of the minister’s family who came to see the play.
“They brought mementoes that he gave to them to show us so we have an even greater insight into the man and his story.”
Mr Dallas said relatives have praised him for his mimicry of Dr Caskie’s accent but said he was far too tall for the role.
The 6ft 1ins actor joked: “I think I am about a foot taller than him but I have been working on small acting, shrinking for the performance and I might have to cut myself off at the knees.
“Seriously though, it is about capturing the essence of the man.
“He was gentle but with a streak of iron and that is why he was able to save so many servicemen.”
Mr Dallas said the public reaction to the hour long play – based on the minister’s autobiography, The Tartan Pimpernel, has been incredible.
“People have come up to me afterwards and said ‘oh that was fantastic, I never knew anything about this story ’while others tell you ‘I met him (Dr Caskie) on a boat once and he was a lovely man.
“A woman recently told me she was in charge of the post office in Edinburgh where he collected his pension and he was a really nice, beautiful and gentle man.”