The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer
Return of a Classic Solo Comedy
Reviewed by Mark Brown
It’s five years since Enoch Dalmellington first took to the stage at his home city venue, the Òran Mór. What a joy it is to see Iain Heggie’s 18th-century Glasgow solicitor on the Fringe, and played once more by John Bett – the actor who made the role his own – in this hilarious monologue’s maiden run.
Set in the 1790s, when Glasgow’s wealth was built on the twin pillars of tobacco and slavery, The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer is a bold mixture of social satire and family drama. As Dalmellington faces financial disaster, he attempts to find a husband for his ‘dull, pious, humourless’ daughter Euphemia. However, her chosen suitor (who favours the abolition of the slave trade) is unlikely to endear the lawyer to his merchant clients.
There’s something wonderfully appropriate in the piece being performed in the recently bourgeoisified Assembly Rooms, as the wry Dalmellington contemplates his ruin, following the loss of his investments at the hands of the infamous Pirates of the Caribbean. From Scottish religion and politics, to the Scotland of our own times (considered, with clever humour, via Mistress Zapata, the fortune teller to the lawyer’s housekeeper), Heggie has fashioned a play of enduring satirical wit.
Mistress Zapata, although denounced as a ‘charlatan’ by the lawyer, is a cunning device, enabling Heggie to draw some potent comparisons between the 1790s and contemporary society.
As Scotland’s referendum draws near, the play’s lovely asides on the subject of Caledonian independence seem ever-more pertinent, suggesting that Heggie, back in 2008, was something of a Mistress Zapata himself. Acted deliciously by Bett, this is simply a perfect Fringe treat.
Assembly Rooms, 0844 693 3008, until 25 Aug, 1.30pm, £10 (£9).
This review was originally published on the website of The List magazine on August 22, 2013:
© Mark Brown