SUNART CENTRE, STRONTIAN
A little bit of history was made with Friday night’s opening, in the village of Strontian, in the stunning West Highland peninsula of Ardnamurchan, of this new stage adaptation of Compton Mackenzie’s famous novel Whisky Galore. A co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), Glasgow’s lunchtime theatre A Play, A Pie and a Pint (PP&P) and new Gaelic company Robhanis Theatar (whose first production this is), the show is, that rarest of creatures, a professional theatre presentation played in Gaelic with English surtitles.
Set, like Mackenzie’s novel and Alexander Mackendrick’s much-loved 1949 film, in the fictional Outer Hebridean pub the S.S. Cabinet Minister, Iain Finlay Macleod’s short stage version (running to 70 minutes in Strontain, 20 minutes longer than advertised) is set in the present day. There, the locals welcome Irish traveller Maire (who is in search of her Hebridean roots) by re-enacting the events of Mackenzie’s tale (which was itself inspired by a real event in 1941, when a ship, the S.S. Politician, carrying a cargo of whisky, foundered off Eriskay).
The play-within-a-play retells the hilarious comic story of a Western Isle, beleaguered by the wartime whisky drought, seizing gratefully on the miraculous arrival of hundreds of cases of the Water of the Life. However, in addition to adding the trappings of the 21st-century, from smartphones to a nostalgia for the Bee Gees’ hit Staying Alive, it adds new subplots, such as the unlikely romance between Micheal (young owner of the Cabinet Minister) and Sarah (the pub’s black-lipstick-wearing Goth barmaid).
The relocation of the tale requires dexterity on the part of the variedly skilled, five-strong cast, not least the fine Iain Macrae (who plays local man Duncan and many more besides). However, one can’t help but feel that the chronological shift is attempting to make a virtue of the small cast required by many of the venues to which the show will tour. Director Guy Hollands’s production, which enjoys fine recorded music by Alasdair Macrae, loses pace, and comic impact, as it changes gear between the 1940s and the present day.
Welcome, and often charming, though this path-breaking production is in many ways, one can’t help but yearn to see the story returned to its wartime origins and told, in Gaelic, with live music, by a full cast. That really would be glorious.
Touring until May 15. For further information, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on April 12, 2015
© Mark Brown