The King’s Kilt
seen at Òran Mór, Glasgow
Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
St Andrew Square
Until January 4
Reviewed by Mark Brown
I have not, truth be told, got along particularly well with Rona Munro’s dramatisations of Scottish history. I found The Last Witch, her 2009 Edinburgh International Festival offering, which considered the life and death of Janet Horne (the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in the Britain), directionless and insipid. Time will tell if her ambitious (some might say hubristic) James Plays (about the kings James I, II and III of Scotland), which premiered at this year’s EIF, are revived as 21st-century classics or, as I suspect, left on the shelf of world drama as a disappointment best forgotten.
I am considerably relieved, therefore, to find that her latest historical work, a 50-minute mini-drama entitled The King’s Kilt, is a delightfully witty, topical comedy about Sir Walter Scott. Playing at Glasgow’s ever-successful lunchtime theatre A Play, A Pie And A Pint, before heading to The Lemon Tree venue in Aberdeen, it shifts back-and-forth in time, courtesy of a visit to present day Edinburgh by American academic, Walt Scott, a distant relative of the great man.
Transported back to 1822, we see Scott attempting to persuade an Edinburgh dressmaker to fashion a kilt for George IV, who is about to make his historic visit to the Scottish capital. An easy task, one might have thought, were the dressmaker not a highland Jacobite and her landlady not an austere skinflint with a blackmailing hold on the writer.
The politics of the Union between Scotland and England are interwoven with popular notions of “Scottishness” (in which Scott played no small part, of course) to often hilarious effect. Director Marilyn Imrie’s production is blessed with an excellent cast, comprising David Mara (Walt and Walter Scott), Beth Marshall (Ailsa the dressmaker and Aly, a 21st-century seller of tat to tourists) and Alison Peebles (three landladies).
It is ironic that The King’s Kilt will, for now at least, play only in Glasgow and Aberdeen. Set in Princes Street Gardens and on the Canongate, a stone’s throw from the Scottish Parliament, it deserves an outing in Edinburgh.
Whether Stick Man, by Bedfordshire-based Scamp Theatre and Watford Palace Theatre, deserves its Christmas residency in the Spiegeltent in St Andrew Square (as part of the Edinburgh’s Christmas events), is another question. Based upon Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book of the same name, and aimed at children aged three and over, it is a professional, but not particularly inspired, production.
Nik Howden (Stick Man), Nancy Trotter Landry (Stick Lady Love) and Gordon Cooper (various roles and musician) offer a conventional, 50-minute telling of Donaldson’s tale. Combining recorded and live music with straightforward song, puppetry and physical theatre, they take us on Stick Man’s adventures; which include him being mistaken for a Pooh stick by a hyper-active girl and standing in for a flag pole on a posh couple’s sand castle.
Theatre for pre-school kids is notoriously difficult to pull off. The best theatre artists, such as Andy Manley, Shona Reppe and Catherine Wheels (creators of White, which returns to the Traverse in Edinburgh next month), engage three and four-year-olds with works which are tailored perfectly to the stage of development of their target audience.
By contrast, Scamp’s production seems to flit in and out of real engagement with the young theatregoers. In fairness, the raised stage of the Spiegeltent does create something of a barrier; and one which the actors try to overcome at times by coming down into the audience.
Ultimately, however, Stick Man is simply not inventive or funny enough to gain the rapt attention of one of theatre’s most demanding audiences.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 30, 2014
© Mark Brown