Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Lion, Witch, Wardrobe
Ben Onwukwe as Aslan (centre). Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Theresa Heskins’s adaptation of CS Lewis’s great Christian allegory The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe enjoyed critical acclaim when it premiered, under her direction, at the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme in 2009. Watching this staging at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, one can see why.

The script is faithful, yet ever mindful of itself as a theatrical drama. The departure of the Pevensie children from war-torn London to the country mansion of eccentric Professor Kirke is dealt with sensitively, but quickly.

In no time at all, intrepid little Lucy (performed beautifully by Claire-Marie Seddon) is clambering through the wardrobe into the bleak wonderland of Narnia. Having met the good-hearted faun Mr Tumnus (Ewan Donald on charming form), she is soon enticing her three siblings into the fantastical world where the evil White Witch reigns.

Heskins’s play is clear, direct, yet poetic. If only director Andrew Panton’s production was equally self-assured. As it unfolds on Becky Minto’s set, which is as visually delightful as her lovely costume designs, the show begins to lose momentum. This is due, in part, to some poor directorial decisions (the driving off of the White Witch by invisible birds looks silly) and a few clumsy moments with ungainly, large props.

Such errors would be forgivable, were it not for the unevenness in the cast. If his casting is any measure, the director seems to have a preference for evil over good.

Pauline Knowles is outstanding as the fabulously attired White Witch. As seductive as she is ruthless, it’s no wonder that young Edmund succumbs to her as she plies him with Turkish delight.

The Witch’s weaselly driver is also perfectly cast and brilliantly costumed (his head disappearing, hilariously, in his huge coat). Lewis Howden seems to have reimagined Queen Victoria’s Scottish gillie, John Brown, in his embodiment of servility.

Over on the side of good, things aren’t going quite so well. Ben Onwukwe is dreadfully miscast in the all-important role of Aslan, the lion king.

Visibly lacking in conviction, the actor simply cannot find the gravitas, power or emotional warmth required by his character. Such a casting error is devastating. Like the Bible story upon which it is based, Lewis’s tale needs its audience to believe in its king.

Until January 3.  0131 248 4848 ;

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on November 29, 2015

© Mark Brown

Preview: Rapunzel, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Letting her hair down

Award-winning actress Jessica Hardwick talks to Mark Brown about playing Rapunzel at her beloved Citizens Theatre

Rapunzel - Jessica Hardwick
Jessica Hardwick as Rapunzel. Photo: Tim Morozzo

When I meet Jessica Hardwick at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, I have to do a double take. I’ve known the acclaimed young actress for many years, having taught her and her student actor colleagues when she was an extremely promising undergraduate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

I should be able to recognise her anywhere. Not today, however. Today her trademark flowing, dark blonde locks are wrapped up in a tousled red wig.

She is in the midst of rehearsals for the Gorbals playhouse’s Christmas show, Rapunzel, in which she plays the titular lead. As the wig suggests, the Citz’s festive audiences are not about to be given a sanitised or Disneyfied version of the centuries-old fairytale of the girl locked in the tower by a witch.

“It’s the complete opposite of a girly Rapunzel”, Hardwick explains, with obvious pleasure. “It’s not sickly sweet, it’s for boys and girls.

“I spend most of the time in the show with my hair cut off and dressed as a wee boy. There’s something really tomboyish about it. My character is very quirky and feisty.”

The production is staged for the Citizens by experienced director Lu Kemp, using an adaptation by Annie Siddons which, in turn, is based on the famous version of the tale by the Brothers Grimm. Hardwick is delighted to be working with Siddons’s script.  “I knew the Grimm Brothers’ version as a child”, she says.

“Our play is based on that, so it’s quite dark in places. That makes the lighter, more loving moments stand out. It’s a show of real contrasts.

“There’s something really satisfying in having that dark element in the story”, she continues. “It’s fun for children, too.

“I remember as a child reading the Grimms’ Cinderella. The ugly sisters cut their toes off to get their feet in the glass slipper.

“That’s fun, it’s more exciting. It makes characters more interesting when there’s a bit of danger in there.”

In fact, Hardwick’s enthusiasm for the show, which is delightfully abundant, extends to every aspect of the production. The original music, which is played live on stage, is “cool”, she says. “It’s kind of folk-rocky, and it’s got a grungy aspect to it.”

The set, costume and puppet designs are great, too, she tells me. “It’s a typical Citz show. The set is very bare to start off with, then everything starts to grow and feed into it.”

The flourishing of a garden around young Rapunzel could be a metaphor for Hardwick’s career in recent years. She was the richly deserved recipient of a 2014 Billy Award, given to young actors by playwright and painter John Byrne in memory of the late Billy McColl.

That accolade came shortly after her superb performance as Sonya in Citizens director Dominic Hill’s unforgettable production of Crime And Punishment. Other roles include Mathilde, the long-suffering, young wife of the poet Paul Verlaine, in Pamela Carter’s play Slope, and Rima, beloved of the eponymous anti-hero in the recent Citz/Edinburgh International Festival staging of Alasdair Gray’s epic novel Lanark.

Every one of these excellent performances has a common denominator. They have all been performed at the Citz.  “I feel so lucky, I feel so grateful to this theatre”, says Hardwick, with typical modesty.

The extraordinary history of the theatre supports actors, rather than intimidating them, she explains. Likewise its socially diverse audience.

“I feel like I’m in a deep love affair with the Citz”, she says, laughing. And then she’s gone, back onto the Citz’s stage to become the most willing of captives.

Rapunzel runs at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until January 3:

This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 29, 2015

© Mark Brown

Open letter to the Scottish culture minister re. Creative Scotland

Artists and audiences deserve better than Creative Scotland

Three years on from the crisis that devastated arts funding body Creative Scotland, Mark Brown, the Sunday Herald’s longstanding theatre critic, writes an impassioned open letter to the Scottish Government’s culture minister Fiona Hyslop MSP


Dear Ms Hyslop,

I have worked as a professional theatre critic in Scotland for more than 20 years (12 of them at this newspaper), and I have never known artists to be as despondent about the state of our arts funding body Creative Scotland as they are today.

Three years ago this very month CS was in crisis. More than 100 artists, including some of the biggest names in the Scottish arts, had signed an open letter expressing their dissatisfaction with the administration of CS chief executive Andrew Dixon. By early December Mr Dixon had announced his resignation.

Today, almost two-and-a-half years into the leadership of new chief exec Janet Archer, we should have witnessed a turnaround in CS. Its relations with artists and its communications with them, and with the general public, should have improved markedly. Faith should have been restored in CS’s decision making processes.

However, none of this is true. The reason for this is actually quite simple. The problem with CS was never merely one of personnel. Rather, successive Scottish Governments, including the administration of which you are a part, have got their arts funding strategy wrong.

When Creative Scotland was established in 2010, under the then minority SNP Government, it was quite clear, even in the new organisation’s name, that our politicians had signed up to a philistine, market-driven ideology of “creative industries”.

Our arts funding body was rebranded along the lines of the business-centred ethos of Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” experiment. Following his first election in 1997, Blair invited high profile artists into his oily embrace on the basis that they were good for British business.

CS springs from the same, murky stream. Take, for example, its recent “draft creative industries strategy” document, which is so full of ridiculous, market-obsessed jargon that it reads as if it was written by a semi-literate business studies undergraduate.

The document is aimed, CS tells me, not so much at all “creative industries” as at what it terms “sustainable creative businesses”. This, presumably, means the likes of firms of architects and computer games makers, who have a greater money making capacity than most mere artists.

I say “presumably”, because the terminology of the document is, typically for CS, ludicrously opaque.

The economic benefits of the arts to Scotland are obvious to everyone. However, acknowledging the value of the arts to the economy is one thing, making them a mere instrument of it is quite another.

The success of a business can be easily measured. One need only look at the balance sheet.

The success of a work of art is impossible to measure. Great art enhances us intellectually, emotionally, psychologically and, dare I say it, spiritually. Its impact upon human lives cannot be quantified by accountants.

We should never forget that Vincent van Gogh, many of whose works are now among the most expensive in the world, barely sold a painting during his own lifetime. Living in penury and dependent on his loving and indulgent brother, Theo, he was not what CS calls a marketable “micro business”. If Vincent had been required to seek support from CS, rather than his sibling, I suspect he would have cut his throat rather than his ear.

It is often said that the health of any society can be measured by the position of women within it. I would add to that a further observation: the maturity of any democracy can be measured in the degree of freedom the political system permits to artists.

By this I mean not just freedom from censorship, or even freedom from the well-intentioned (but misguided) demands of political correctness (why should artists carry a disproportionate burden of “social inclusion” where the politicians have so palpably failed?). I also mean freedom from the kind of processes employed by CS, which put the demands of bureaucracy and the market ahead of the requirements of art.

CS comes across as an organisation that is out of touch with artists and audiences. It appears to function, first-and-foremost, to justify its own existence.

If you wanted to be cynical you might say this is inevitable in a top-heavy organisation led by a chief exec on £115k, supported by nine board members earning between £55k and £90k (salaries that are beyond the wildest dreams of most artists in Scotland).

How else do you account for CS’s decision, this time last year, to refuse the application for stable support from Untitled Projects (UP), the theatre company led by the brilliant, award-winning director and designer Stewart Laing?

UP has created some of the most exciting theatre seen in Scotland in recent times, yet CS preferred to fund Rapture Theatre, a company whose output might be described as “variable” at best. The result of this, frankly, mind-boggling decision is that UP has been put into mothballs.

This judgement proved that  CS is insufficiently aware of the terrain of Scottish theatre. New Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan’s invitation to UP to present its show Paul Bright’s Confessions Of A Justified Sinner during the 2015 Festival highlighted the absurdity of CS’s position.

So, what should be done about CS? Rip it up and start again, as Orange Juice sang in 1982.

As the Scottish Government/CS long list of “creative industries” (which includes the performing arts, the visual arts, music, architecture, computer games design and textiles) makes clear, CS has simply too many responsibilities. The architecture and design companies should be looked after by a separate design council, the artists by a new, streamlined arts council.

The latter should return arts funding in Scotland to first principles: i.e. listening to artists and audiences, quietly going about the business of promoting excellence and innovation in the Scottish arts.

The pro-market dogma of “creative industries” should be dumped, and the new arts council founded on a simple statement from Albert Einstein: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”


Yours faithfully,


This open letter was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 15, 2015

To see the accompanying news article, visit:

© Mark Brown

Preview: NordDance festival, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s Cool Up North

Hip hop and street dance have taken very special forms in the Nordic countries and here in Scotland, as the NordDance festival in Edinburgh seeks to prove. By Mark Brown

JUCK by JUCK - photo by Linus Enlund.jpg
JUCK. Photo: Linus Enlund

To talk about hip hop is to talk of a music and dance culture with its origins among young African Americans in the Bronx area of New York City in the 1970s. Since then, however, hip hop music and the associated street dance has spread around the world, melding with local cultures as it has done so.

In South Korea, for example, B-boy dancers (that’s break dancers to the uninitiated) are among the best in the world. In France, as Mathieu Kassovitz’s remarkable 1995 film La Haine made clear, working-class youth from the neglected suburbs of Paris and Marseille have long expressed their anger, frustration and hope through hip hop.

Unlikely as it may seem, one can add Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen and Edinburgh, among other places in northern Europe, to the list of street dance centres. That is the premise, at least, of NordDance, a new, two-day festival of Nordic and Scottish street dance to be staged at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh next week.

Programmed by Morag Deyes, artistic director of Dance Base, Scotland’s national dance centre, the festival seeks to introduce Scottish audiences to Nordic groups they will not have encountered before. Alongside work from Sweden and Norway, the festival will also showcase Scottish artists Ashley Jack and Room 2 Manoeuvre.

So, why connect Scottish street dancers with their counterparts in the Nordic countries? “I’ve long thought that Scotland, as a culture, should be looking north instead of south”, says Deyes.

“I think we are a Nordic culture. We share with Scandinavian countries a sense of humour, a relationship with light and the idea that you don’t have to big and brash in order to be talented and good.

The director’s conviction that dance in Scotland connects well with dance culture in countries such as Sweden and Norway has been strengthened by numerous visits she has made to Nordic dance houses and festivals. It has also been enhanced by a series of exchanges that Dance Base has been involved in, taking Scottish dancers to Nordic countries, and bringing Nordic dancers here to Scotland.

It was during a visit to Ice Hot, the biennial Nordic dance showcase, in the Norwegian capital Oslo in December of last year that Deyes became convinced that street dance was at the cutting edge of contemporary dance in Scandinavia. “After decades of watching dance and being a dancer myself, the thing that really touched me was the urban dance,” she says.

Nordic street dance is, she continues, “super-interesting, for lots of reasons. One of those is the way the culture is translated.

“Usually hip hop culture is angry men and sassy women. That’s almost completely reversed in Scandinavia, where  it’s furious women and sensitive guys.

“The boys’ shows are about sensitivity, the guts and the heart of the thing. Whereas the women who are coming up are very in-your-face, new feminism and kick-ass.”

A prime example of those “furious women” is JUCK (which means “hump” in Swedish), a young Swedish company who present their eponymous show as part of NordDance. Comprised of young black and white Swedish women, the group define themselves with an uncompromising, no-nonsense manifesto:

“JUCK is a movement, JUCK is activism, JUCK is what the f***, JUCK is power, JUCK is dance, JUCK is not oops I did it again, JUCK is I don’t understand, JUCK is feeling, JUCK is sexuality. JUCK makes me want to go out clubbing with my friends. JUCK is.”

“It’s interesting the way the culture has translated”, says the director. “There is no Brooklyn, there is no race relations problem to the same degree that there was [for African Americans] in the early days of hip hop.

“So, they have to find something else to be kicking against.”

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast with JUCK’s bold, activist dance than LEAHKIT, a work by FRIKAR Dance Company of Norway, in which dancer Hallgrim Hansegard performs with Torgeir Vassvik, a famous joiker (chanter) belonging to the Sami people from the arctic region. The piece aims to combine contemporary street dance with the rites and rituals of the ancient cultures of Norway.

Elsewhere in this festival of six shows, the four-man B-boy crew of Scottish group Room 2 Manouevre satirise aspects of break dance culture in a piece entitled Without A Hitch. R2M’s artistic director Tony Mills is, Deyes comments, “very good at seeing the competitive side of B-boy dancing as a bit pathetic and wee bit sad.”

The director is aware that she is, “throwing down the adventurousness gauntlet to audiences. I’m asking people to buy tickets to come and see groups they’ve never heard of, from countries they might never have been to. But it’s going to be a very exciting two days.”

Deyes’s hope and belief is that this, the first NordDance festival, will prove to be the beginning of a growing culture of collaboration between dance artists on both sides of the North Sea. “This is the start of a relationship with the Nordic countries that Scotland should really embrace”, she says.

“For Dance Base this is a really significant moment, to be able to present something which is a combination of Nordic and Scottish dance. I believe that Scotland is a Nordic country. I really hope audiences will take up the challenge.”

NordDance takes place at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh on November 20 and 21. Details of the programme can be found at:

This preview was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 15, 2015

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Tipping the Velvet, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh & The Choir, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (Sunday Herald)



Tipping The Velvet


Until November 14


The Choir


Until November 14


Reviewed by Mark Brown

Sally Messham in Tipping the Velvet. Photo: Johan Persson
Sally Messham in Tipping the Velvet. Photo: Johan Persson

Such is the double bind of sexism and homophobia that the lives, past and present, of lesbians are rarely explored on the stage. All the better, then, that Laura Wade has written this superb, new theatre adaptation of Sarah Waters’s historical novel Tipping The Velvet.

Waters’s book about the travails of young, working-class lesbian Nancy Astley in late-19th century London has been adapted as a drama before, for the BBC TV series of 2002. However, from the opening moment of this excellent co-production by the Royal Lyceum and the Lyric, Hammersmith, it’s clear that Wade’s version is pure theatre.

Young Nancy’s life is transformed, from Whitstable oyster girl to theatre dresser, when she is taken into the employ of her idol, the music hall male impersonator Kitty Butler. Her progress, through the ecstatic highs and anguished lows of love and life in London, including more than a brush with bourgeois decadence (think a lesbian Bullingdon Club), is decidedly Picaresque.

The beauty of both Wade’s adaptation and director Lyndsey Turner’s production is that they find a wonderfully inventive theatrical language for such an episodic tale. The Chairman (David Cardy, all fake bonhomie), the music hall narrator who guides us through the story, is the personification of meta-theatre.

There are excellent performances throughout, not least from Sally Messham, who carries off Nancy’s combination of vulnerability, resilience and rage with admirable aplomb. The set and costume designs are top notch, too, reflecting the starkly contrasting environs of Nancy’s journey.

However, it is the musical score, 20th and 21st-century rock and pop songs given the Victorian music hall treatment by a fine live band, that really gives the production its distinct identity. Every track, from Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy (as Nancy hangs from a meat hook in Smithfield) to I Wanna Be Your Dog by The Stooges (when our heroine is in the gilded cage of the sexually domineering Diana), is sharply appropriate to the narrative moment.

Impressively original and constantly compelling, Turner’s production continues the Lyceum’s remarkable run of hit shows.

The Choir, the new musical theatre piece by actor-writer Paul Higgins and singer-songwriter Ricky Ross (of Deacon Blue fame), seemed poised to be a hit, too. Indeed, so it might prove, but I have my doubts.

Often neatly observed, sometimes very funny, Higgins’s story takes us into the world of a new community choir in Wishaw. Established by Khalid, an Iraqi surgeon from the local hospital, the choir attracts a decidedly diverse group, from a former Tory councillor to, somewhat improbably, a member of the track-suited fraternity.

Ross has written some very nice songs, and they are played and sung beautifully by the cast. However, whether any of them are memorable enough to make the show the success that co-producers Ambassador Theatre Group are hoping for is another matter.

In theatrical terms, the show suffers from Higgins’s attempt to give almost equal weight to all 12 characters. The sudden, melodramatic collapse of the choir into all-encompassing acrimony is about as plausible as an assurance from George Osborne.

Relationship breakdown, newborn romance, class antagonism, single parenthood, an ex-con seeking redemption: the play simply bites off much more than it can chew.

Played out on Tom Rogers’s convincing-but-inflexible municipal hall set, the piece is big-hearted for sure. However, its humanism runs headlong into sentimentality.

The saccharine mass confession with which the characters make their peace is very hard to swallow. It’s like a well-intentioned child’s dream of conflict resolution.

All of which is a pity, because director Dominic Hill has an excellent cast (including Ryan Fletcher, who is brilliant as former prisoner, Donny).

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 8, 2015

© Mark Brown

Review: The Choir, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (Daily Telegraph)





Anne Kidd, Joanne Thompson and Neshla Caplan in The Choir. Photo: James Glossop.
Anne Kidd, Joanne Thompson and Neshla Caplan in The Choir. Photo: James Glossop.

The Choir, a new play with songs, written by actor Paul Higgins and Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross, is part of a trend, almost a new movement, in Scottish musical theatre. It comes hot on the heels of Lee Hall’s Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour for the National Theatre of Scotland and in the midst of the music-led, multi-arts Sound Festival in Aberdeenshire.

Directed by Dominic Hill, acclaimed artistic director of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, and co-produced with the Ambassador Theatre Group, its premiere in Scotland is clearly made with an eye on a possible London transfer and/or a UK tour. Whether it deserves one is another matter.

Don’t get me wrong, the production, in which a community choir is launched in a municipal hall in the Lanarkshire town of Wishaw, has much to commend it. Well sung, sometimes excellently acted, it is an often funny and unashamedly humane piece of theatre.

Ross and Higgins have written some nice, if unmemorable, songs and Higgins’s book zips along in its funnier moments. However, things tail off somewhat following the carefully constructed first act, in which we are introduced to a diverse set of 12 characters, ranging from Khalid, an exiled Iraqi surgeon, to Jean, a former Tory councillor.

In the second half, these pen portraits turn into more defined characters and, crucially, more developed relationships. It soon becomes clear that the piece is heavily overloaded.

As a consequence of the drama’s cumbersome structure, one moment of conflict (spoiler alert: Scott Reid’s excellently combustible young shop worker, takes exception to a gesture by George, retired businessman and husband of Jean) must be the catalyst for a whole series of damaging revelations and arguments.

If the sudden, melodramatic meltdown of the choir is decidedly improbable, its rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes is almost unpalatably sentimental. The play descends into a kind of pastiche Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where people confess, not their addiction to booze, but their personal shortcomings.

One need not be as cynical and hard-bitten as Jamie McDonald (Higgins’s foul-mouthed spin doctor in BBC sitcom The Thick of It) to find the play’s denouement both predictable and sickly sweet. The opening night standing ovation was testament to the superb choral performances of the ensemble, but one has doubts as to whether The Choir has what it takes to become an enduring work of musical theatre.

Until November 14. For more information, visit:

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on November 2, 2015

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Our Man in Havana (Pitlochry Festival Theatre) & Hector (touring)

Theatre reviews


Our Man In Havana


Until November 14




Touring until December 9


Reviewed by Mark Brown

Andrew Loudon and Roger Delves-Broughton in Our Man in Havana. Photo: Douglas McBride
Andrew Loudon and Roger Delves-Broughton in Our Man in Havana. Photo: Douglas McBride

Three years ago Richard Baron directed Patrick Barlow’s acclaimed stage adaptation of John Buchan’s novel The 39 Steps for Pitlochry Festival Theatre. It was an ambitious, enjoyable, but ultimately insufficiently speedy production.

Undeterred, he’s back on similar territory with this staging of Clive Francis’s version of Graham Greene’s novel Our Man In Havana.

Like Barlow’s play, Francis’s drama is a ripping yarn of espionage played out as theatrical farce. The comedy of both plays relies to a considerable degree on the playing of multiple characters by a small cast.

However, if Baron’s 39 Steps never quite got into top gear, his latest offering is decidedly lacking in pace. This has a lot to do with Francis’s adaptation.

Episodic novels are notoriously difficult to transfer to the stage. This is particularly true of Greene’s tale of Wormold, the hapless vacuum cleaner salesman who is recruited by British intelligence in post-war Cuba during the rule of right-wing dictator Batista.

Much as Francis tries to make the need for narration seem part of the joke, he seems to be struggling to make a virtue out of a necessity.

Andrew Loudon gives very genteel, English expression to the ludicrous lies Wormold tells in order to extort expenses payments from the British exchequer. Meanwhile, his fellow cast members Roger Delves-Broughton, Steven McNicoll and the aptly-named Jessica Guise play an array of characters, from Wormold’s “handler” Hawthorne and his precocious teenage daughter Milly to the assorted violent cops, pimps and prostitutes of 1950s Havana.

However, despite their best efforts (which include the always excellent McNicoll as an Irish nun and a dubiously gullible chief of police) the structure of the play frustrates all attempts to give it momentum. Consequently, despite some genuinely funny moments, the piece seems formulaic and lacklustre.

There is also something of a formula to David Gooderson’s Hector, the tale of Sir Hector MacDonald, the Scottish Major General knighted by Queen Victoria. Well-researched and committed to restoring the reputation of a man considered “disgraced” at the time of his death, by his own hand, in 1903, Gooderson’s play is a straightforward work of biographical theatre.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and director Kate Nelson’s touring production for Eden Court, Comar and Ed Littlewood Productions is a well-acted rendering of a well-made play.

Steven Duffy is on upright, but human, form as “Fighting Mac”, the Highlander who rose through the ranks of the British imperial army to become a general famed for his exploits in Sudan, Afghanistan and South Africa. When in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) MacDonald faces the extreme hostility of a decadent colonial class which is threatened by his military discipline and no-nonsense, Scottish Calvinism.

A strong ensemble creates an excellent sense of the comfortable life of the British imperial upper class in Ceylon. Equally strong is the evocation of a pernicious conspiracy (by the Governor, a prominent businessman and a clergyman) to besmirch the name of the man they deride contemptuously as “the crofter” with concocted stories of homosexual paedophilia.

There is an amount of comic characterisation as the supporting cast members shift between various roles. However, one fails to find the humour in Raj Ghatak’s playing of the Governor’s domestic servant as a slouching caricature.

That said, some neat little touches raise a smile. For example, a cricket score displayed at the Governor’s residence soon reappears as the hymn numbers in a church.

Ultimately, however, the play is a poignant and powerful insight into how MacDonald was brought down, and ultimately killed, by a scandal rooted in snobbery and bigotry.

Hector tours until December 9. For details, visit:

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 2, 2015

© Mark Brown