KING’S THEATRE, EDINBURGH
From Robert Burns’s arch hypocrite Holy Willie to Ian Pattison’s park bench philosopher Rab C Nesbitt, the Scottish comic imagination has long specialised in grotesques. Rarely, however, has it brought forth a character quite so disgusting and malevolent as the titular anti-heroine of Yer Granny.
Based on La Nona by leading Argentinian dramatist Roberto Cossa, Douglas Maxwell’s new comedy for the National Theatre of Scotland switches the play to Caledonia with confident swagger. Set in 1977 in the overcrowded flat of the Scots-Italian Russo family, it finds the 100-year-old grandmother, played with hilarious monstrousness by Gregor Fisher (best known as the fragrant Rab C himself), eating her clan out of house and home.
Patriarch Cammy (Jonathan Watson) has had to close down his fish and chip shop, the Minerva, after its stock was devastated by Granny’s gargantuan appetite. The proud breadwinner has resorted to driving a burger van, while daughter Marissa (Louise McCarthy), the extremely naive apple of his eye, has been reduced to selling “energy tablets” to the denizens of the high flats in the middle of the night.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Minerva’s customers have been taken by the adjacent San Francisco Fish Bar, owned by Cammy’s sworn enemy, the lecherous and unscrupulous Donnie Francisco. Yet, as the family members descend into the moral mire in their increasingly demonic contemplations of how to deal with the problem that is Granny, it is to the unlikely figure of Francisco that they turn in their hour of need.
One can read Granny as a metaphor or take her straight, as a hyperbolical representation of the unwanted guest. Either way, Fisher plays her with a side-splitting vulgarity, stomping around Colin Richmond’s wonderfully garish period set like an indestructible colossus.
If Fisher is an abominable delight, director Graham McLaren’s excellent production also boasts a universally tremendous ensemble. Barbara Rafferty’s bravura performance as a chemically enhanced Aunt Angela and Brian Pettifer’s repulsively funny rendering of the vile Francisco will live long in the memory.
Like its South American progenitor, Yer Granny is a no-holds-barred, tasteless, darkly comic play. As it asks just how low human beings can sink, we discover, as with much great comedy, that we are laughing at ourselves.
Touring Scotland and Northern Ireland until July 4. For tour details, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on June 3, 2015
© Mark Brown