William Gillie (Andy Secombe) is a charismatic and inspirational teacher running the only school in the Scottish mining village of Crult in 1950. Being a learned, professional man he has a certain status in the town, but this evening he isn’t in favour. His habit of inspiring the sons and daughters of miners and housewives to become something other than miners and housewives is not appreciated by the local worthies. He was just supposed to teach his students the basics of literature and art, not encourage them to pursue creative careers in London.
Tonight, unbeknownst to Mr Gillie, he’s being observed by a Judge (Drew Paterson) and a Procurator (Ross Dunsmore), who are trying to decide whether what he’s done during his teaching career was right. Should Mr Gillie have opened the minds of his young working class charges? Shown them that they have career options? And if they made mistakes, was it his fault?
Mr Gibb (David Bannerman), a pastor who heads the local education board, the town’s GP Dr Watson (Malcolm Rennie), and Mr Gillie’s own wife (Emma D’Inverno) give their views on these matters, many of them not positive. And there’s a further shock when two of Mr Gillie’s favourite former students, miner’s son Tom Donnelly (Andrew Cazanave Pin) and the doctor’s daughter Nelly (Caitlin Fielding), announce that they too have been inspired by Gillie and are already married and off to London – tonight!
Six months later, Tom and Nelly return to Crult, successful, happy and living a glamorous life, with Tom working as a critic and journalist and both of them socialising with filmmakers and other creatives. But, to their surprise, it’s Mr Gillie who raises the most objections to what they’ve achieved. His dream for Tom was that he become a great literary author, not spend his time with showbusiness shysters.
Ultimately, this is an exploration of judgement and blame. Whose fault is it when it all goes wrong? Would people have been better off if they’d never had their sights raised? And who’s to say what’s wrong anyway?
At the end of the play, a judgement is handed down on Mr Gillie by the Judge, but it’s really for us the audience to decide how we judge him, the other characters and the system as a whole. A system which seems to have changed little for many working class young people in the past 70 years.