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It wis herd wark, but By John Haswell

'It wis herd wark, but... ' (1987) Shetland's herring workers come vividly to life in Shetland Youth Theatre's very first play, developed by the company themselves under the direction of John Haswell.

Scene from It wis herd wark, but Scene from It wis herd wark, but

John Haswell says the play was ‘ created entirely from reminiscence work. A great deal of the text is taken verbatim from original interviews. The company spent several weeks interviewing older members of the community who had been involved in the herring industry, particularly the herring lasses. The show was created in the rehearsal room and performed throughout Shetland.'

The play was restaged in 2007 as part of a conference organised by the Shetland Museum and Archives and dedicated to the role of women in Shetland culture.


The show is set in 1938 and follows a crew of three young Shetland women through a herring season

JEANIE : My name’s Jeanie an I’m 19. I come fae Levenwick whaar I bide on a croft wi me Mam an me twa bridders. As weel as wirkin apo da croft, I mak jumpers tae bring in extra money, an I’m fair lookin forward ta dis, me second year at da guttin.

TAMAR : Hello, my name’s Tamar. I’m 20 an I bide near da shop in Sandwick. Dis’ll be my second year at da guttin in Lerwick tae.

ANNIE : My name is Annie. I’m 19 an I come fae Levenwick. Dis simmer me an da idder twa lasses are comin tae Lerwick ta wirk at da herrin again. Dis’ll be wir second year tagidder as a crew. Me an Jeanie are gutters an Tamar is a packer.


JOHNNY : Me name’s Johnny, an as a cooper, wan o my duties wis tae come doon tae da station wi da curer an check ower da station afore da weemen arrived, mak sure da huts wir aa right – an dir coal an beddin wis aa ready fir dem. Yeh, everything wis provided fir dem.


ANNIE : Provide everything, do dey? Well, dey do gie wis wan bag o coal a week, an da chaff fir da mattresses, bit onything else ta mak dis hut livable in we hae ta do wirsels, an you kin see whit a mess it is. Never mind, dis year I’m aa organised, an I’ve been oot an bought some waa-paper. I canna wait ta shaw da idder lasses – oh, here dey come noo.


ANNIE : Did you get everything, lasses?

JEANIE : Yes, I’ve got twa buckets, a broom an twa scrubbin brushes.

TAMAR : Just tink whit dis lot’ll cost, an wis no earned a penny yet.

ANNIE : Niver spaek. Bit dis’ll cheer you up. I’ve bought some waa-paper. Whit do you tink a yun?

TAMAR : Mmmmmmmmm, lovely.

JEANIE : Annie, whar did du buy yun paper fae?

ANNIE : Fae yun peerie shop at da tap o da rodd. Hit wis ever sae chaep. An dan dir’s dis een.

JEANIE : Bit dey’re aa different, Annie!

ANNIE : Dat’s why dey wir sae chaep, Jeanie. An dis is da last een.

JEANIE : Annie, whar ir we gaein ta pit it?

TAMAR : I’ll tell dee whar ta pit it, Annie – in da bin.

ANNIE (to audience): I could tell da idder twa lasses wirna too taen wi my choice o waa-paper, bit we didna hae time ta argue aboot it, dir wis still too much idder ta be done. An dat wis even afore we started at da guttin. Dir wis aa da dustin tae be done.

JEANIE : Da floor hed ta be swept.

TAMAR : We hed ta clean da stove.

ANNIE : Aa da waas hed ta be washed doon.

JEANIE : Da shelves hed ta be rubbit aff o.

TAMAR : Da beds hed ta be made.

ANNIE : We hed ta light da stove.

JEANIE : Da floors hed ta be scrubbit.

TAMAR : Da waa-paper hed ta be hung (chortle, chortle)

JEANIE : An da coortins hed tae be pitten up.

ANNIE : An we wir just gittin trow it aa when we hed a veesitor, it wis Rasmie, we kent him fae da year afore.

(Enter) RASMIE : Hullo, lasses.

ALL : Hello Rasmie; hello Rasmie; Rasmie

JEANIE : Rasmie – he wis a fine sowl. He wid aye come alang da hut fir a cup o tay an a yarn wi da lasses, bit wance he cam in you could niver get clear o’im. Bit still, his hert wis in da right place.

RASMIE : Weel, you’re here again, lasses. Yeah, yeah, an how’re you gittin on?

ANNIE : Weel, wir gittin dere. Tell me Rasmie, whit does du tink o wir waa-paper?

RASMIE : Oh I tink it’s lovely. Most beautiful.

ANNIE ( to audience): I laekit Rasmie.

RASMIE : So ir you gittin da hut aa cleaned up, lasses? Ha ha, yeah, mmh mmh.

ANNIE : Wir tryin, Rasmie, wir tryin.

RASMIE : Weel, dis floor could do wi a scrub.

TAMAR : We’ve just scrubbed it, Rasmie.

RASMIE : Weel, look at yun gret muckle dirty fit prints aa ower it.

ANNIE : Gret muckle dirty fit prints affa dy gret muckle dirty buits, Rasmie!

RASMIE : Nah, nah: ooooh, yeah. Weel, maybe you’ll git me a cup o tay?

JEANIE : No. I tink du’ll just tak dis bucket an scrubbin brush, an du’ll scrub fae here right oot da door. An Annie’ll mak da tay.

ANNIE (to audience): Weel, he scrubbit awa, an he didna mak too bad’n a job. By da time he wis feenished I’d made da tay. Tay up, lasses. Rasmie, tay’s ready.

RASMIE (WALKS OVER saying): Oh lasses, dat’s your floor feenished.

All: Oh, Rasmie!

RASMIE : Oh no!

ANNIE (to audience): Oh Rasmie. He wis a hermless auld critter, we laekit him ower weel, bit just between wirsels, he wis a peerie bit simple.


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