Review: An Appointment With the Wicker Man, National Theatre of Scotland

An Appointment With the Wicker Man, National Theatre of Scotland, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

by Mark Brown

On a hill above the town of Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, stands the famous early 20th-century folly known as McCaig’s Tower. Building stopped with the death of its creator, banker John Stuart McCaig, and a mere outer wall stands where a Caledonian Coliseum was intended.

One can’t help but think of the Oban folly when watching the latest production by the National Theatre of Scotland. Like McCaig’s Tower, Greg Hemphill and Donald McLeary’s An Appointment With the Wicker Man is impressive in its ambition, but, like the folly, it seems, somehow, unfinished and smaller than originally intended.

Hemphill is a household name in Scotland, on account of his being an actor and writer on hit TV comedies Still Game and Chewin’ the Fat. McLeary is also an accomplished comic writer, most recently on Radio Four’s award-winning Fags, Mags and Bags. There was every reason, therefore, to expect something special from their tongue-in-cheek homage to Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult movie The Wicker Man.

Constructing a drama-within-a-drama, the play finds the ludicrous amateur dramatic company the Loch Parry Players, led by Hemphill’s self-important Finlay Fothergill, undertaking a stage adaptation of Hardy’s film. However, the leading man has gone mysteriously missing during the latter stages of rehearsals, and professional actor, and TV cop, Rory Mulligan has been procured, at some expense, to take on the “Edward Woodward role” of Christian policeman Sergeant Howie.

What follows is a comedy which seems nostalgic not so much for the movie as for TV comedies of the Seventies. The absurd overacting and general haplessness of the Players is predictable enough, and not without its pleasures. However, there are moments – such as someone spitting an out-of-date chocolate bar into someone else’s hand, or a woman returning from the lavatory with the back of her skirt tucked inside her knickers – when the piece descends into the merely puerile.

Hemphill and McLeary pepper their play with nice comic touches: the Players’ previous show titles – Glengarry Glenrothes, Six Angry Men and the controversial musical Josef Fritzl Superstar – are particularly hilarious. However, despite following the narrative line of The Wicker Man fairly assiduously, director Vicky Featherstone’s disjointed and highly variable production never amounts to more than the sum of its parts.

Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until Sat, then touring until March 24. Details: www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 29, 2012:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/9113237/An-Appointment-With-the-Wicker-Man-National-Theatre-of-Scotland-Theatre-Royal-Glasgow-review.html

© Mark Brown

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