IT may be set in France in the 16th century but rising star of Scottish playwriting, Ellie Stewart, believes audiences will respond to her new work on its forthcoming national tour.

“I’m excited about telling a European story at the moment in Scotland for lots of reasons – cultural, political and personal,” she said. “The more we can all do to stop our horizons narrowing the better. I find it alarming what is happening with Brexit.”

Called The Return, her play is inspired by the true story of Martin Guerre who disappeared from his village in the Pyrenees but returned seven years later to his wife and young son. He was at first accepted then accused of being an imposter, tried and executed.

Stewart decided to write a play based on the story after her own return to the Pyrenees which she had first visited when she was just 20 years old. At that time (1990) she was a student at the University of St Andrews but had the chance to study in Toulouse for a year as part of the Erasmus scheme which encourages young people to travel and study abroad.

“I feel very lucky to have been be part of that,” she told The National. “There is a question mark over it now although I think the academics are trying to keep it separate from the political stuff that is going on.”

STEWART fears leaving the EU will only make the UK more insular.

“My daughters at school are getting an international outlook because they have children from other countries such as Poland in their class. When I was growing up in Livingston you didn’t really hear all those languages but that could change now too. I feel it is going to be more of an effort to keep a broad outlook.”

It’s possible that Martin Guerre went off to fight in the war between France and Spain and Stewart sees similarities between his return and the plight of today’s refugees.

“Just like him coming back, people are arriving in this country without any papers or documents,” she said. “Some are managing to establish lives, then they are being sent away again. I felt there was a parallel with this guy who was an outsider but came in and played a role in the village and helped raise the boy.”

She added: “The son has become a more important character as the piece has developed – it’s that idea of the impact on the next generation.

“I also explore the whole notion of truth – that is an important word at the moment. I do feel quite strongly that there are myriad points of view, not just in this play but in society. However, many of these points of view are not being heard as everything is becoming very black and white.”

STEWART first became interested in the story after seeing the 1982 film with Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye.

“When I watched the film again recently, I was struck by the fact that the wife did not get to say much. I found it intriguing and wondered how much she knew and how that impacted on the family.

“Then there was my personal experience of going back to the Pyrenees and finding that the visit sparked lots of memories – it was that experience of going back to a place and finding it changed and then, more importantly, realising that you have changed in that time.”

Stewart is delighted the play is touring the Highlands and the Central Belt.

“It’s exciting that Eden Court is producing it. There is a great team working on it.”

Directed by Philip Howard, former artistic director of Dundee Rep and the Traverse Theatre, the play is produced by the creative team behind the hugely successful Eden Court production Not About Heroes. It stars Emilie Patry, Thoren Ferguson and Greg Sinclair, who plays his cello score live.

NOW living in Bathgate, Stewart was a teacher then began writing during her first maternity leave when she joined the local writing group.

Poet Magi Gibson was writer-in-residence in West Lothian at the time and Stewart, who found the group very encouraging, remembers vividly the moment she decided to try writing plays.

“This may sound funny but I remember Magi told me that I had written an ‘interesting’ poem then asked if I had ever thought about writing drama. I don’t think she was being flippant though – it was more that my characters were coming through.”

Stewart decided to develop her skills with Playwrights’ Studio Scotland and over the years made more space for her writing.

“It was gradual – my oldest girl is now 15 but I cut back on teaching and studied for an MLitt at Glasgow University.”

With two other women she met through the Traverse Theatre, she founded the West Lothian-based Thrawn Craws writers’ collective, and also writes for Village Pub Theatre.

Stewart’s play Hope and Joy – about a woman who lays an egg – won the Tron Theatre’s Progressive Playwright Award in 2016 and she hopes it will go on tour next year.

She also continues to write poetry and is currently writer-in-residence with Firefly Arts in West Lothian.

The Return begins its tour at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on February 15. More details can be found at