Oor Wullie The Musical – King’s Theatre

Book & Lyrics: Scott Gilmour

Music: Claire McKenzie

Director: Andrew Panton

Being blunt, the concept of drawing on an eighty-year-old comic script – rife with slang, Dundonian heritage and is as quintessentially Scottish as Irn Bru chews and Haggis Pakora could leave a potential unpleasant taste in the mouth if done tacky. Capitalising on nostalgia is by no means a new fad, and Oor Wullie, aye that annual yer granny gets you which you never bothered to pick-up has been delighting kids, and big ones across Scotland for decades. It would also seem, that with the right knack, embracement and know-how, Oor Wullie is a fandabidozi musical.

Coherently nostalgic, yet modern, Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour craft a sentimental production which captures a thick vein of Scottish humour while pumping it full of enthusiastic energy, maintaining the comic’s origins, and ensuring a modern spirit of inclusion. Frankly, the coming months will be a trying period for us all, particularly those who may not ‘look’ Scottish enough, thankfully we can look to the past to hopefully lead our future.

Young Scot Wahid, whose parents originate from Pakistan, starts a new school in a country where he has always called home, even if fellow students seem confused about his origins. Finding solace in the library, under the watchful eye of the librarian Dudley, a touching reference to original animator Dudley D. Watkins, Oor Wullie lands himself in trouble again, emerging from the very annual Wahid finds solace in. No longer in Auchenshuggle, Wullie and the gang must adapt to this peculiar world. Through Kenneth Macleod’s vivid designs, directly out of the Sunday Post, emphasising the comic roots for the characters with layers upon layers of colour, effects and one very special Wullie Wagon.

Lifting the skirt of risqué, Oor Wullie capitalises on the countries passionate thirst for double entendres, in-jokes and having a belter of a time. None of the jokes feels harsh or targeted, levelling off as safe for the whole family. The entire cast achieves a brilliant sense of comic timing, particularly Dan Buckley’s Bob and Ann Louise Ross as the charmingly befuddled PC Murdoch. The cheeky chappy himself Martin Quidd tackles the role of Wullie, exaggerating to accentuate the comic-strip background. His chemistry with the entire gang is tangible, but with a touching reflection found in Eklovey Kashyap’s Walid offers a real sentimentality amidst the frolic and fun.

Course, it wouldnae be right to celebrate eighty years of Scotland’s favourite son without a little music, now would it? McKenzie’s musical composition carries Gilmour’s lyrics well, capturing the overall tone of the production. Though a mixed lot vocally, there’s a communal sense to the vocals rather than a polished feel, almost folky. Standout numbers offer a fleshed-out role for Leanne Tarynor’s brilliantly portrayed Basher Mackenzie, and what may at first raises eyebrows as the gang don saris, is a meticulously well-structured number, with taste, humour and delightful choreography courtesy of Chi-San Howard.

All across Scotland Oor Wullie could be found perched upon his pale from the cobbles of Edinburgh to the high streets of Dunfermline and was an expression of the astonishing artistic talents of over two-hundred designs. Now, here is the chance to meet the lad face-to-face, leaping from his two-dimensional form, with a breath of life befitting his cheeky demeanour.

Review originally for Reviewshub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/oor-wullie-the-musical-kings-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol – The Royal Lyceum

Adapted and Directed by Tony Cownie

From the novel by Charles Dickens

Instilling our most cherished festive tale, with the façade of our fair city, should be a winning combination which sits alongside holly and ivy, wine and mistletoe or the Queen’s Speech and a power nap. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol places Ebenezer Scrooge, the original curmudgeon, on the cold, cobbled streets of Edinburgh, where he may bump into a few familiar faces. In recent years The Royal Lyceum has taken us to Neverland, to Wonderland and even into Narnia, but nothing feels quite as right as being on your doorstep.

The script, largely, perhaps too large, remains unchanged. With the inclusion of Greyfriars’ Bobby providing wonderfully inventive puppetry and a few gags to boot, the story of A Christmas Carol has been stuck onto the streets of Edinburgh. Crawford Logan is, an approachable Scrooge. Miserable as ever, there’s a distinct lack of animosity, as the performance is rich and has conviction, he’s an absolute fit for an Edinburgh Scrooge, but there’s a needed edge to Logan’s characterisation. We find it difficult to buy into his postulations of the workhouse, decreasing the surplus populations and the stories darker moments. Herein is the key issue you may find, Tony Cownie’s adaptation is just too sweet to stomach. 

An overlying view of the production’s intention, and one’s taste with dictate your enjoyment of An Edinburgh’s Christmas Carol. The calibre of the Lyceum’s Christmas productions is of tremendous standard, which subverts the usual paradigms we view with a text. Whether this is Peter Pan from the perspective of Wendy, or Alice in Wonderland, emphasising the macabre outlook, the psychosis of the drama and the absurdity. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, by extension, is rather safe. There is nothing wholly offensive to the production, it is by and large an entertaining, festive production which warms the heart which beats beneath the chortling chest – but substantially removes itself from Dicken’s, or even Auld Reekie’s haunted past.

For first and foremost, A Christmas Carol is a ghost story. And in quite the turn-about, it is neither the haunting apparition of Christmas Future, nor the nostalgic pains of Past which are the memorable performances, but rather the often-overlooked Ghost of Christmas Present, or rather ingeniously, The Ghost of Christmas Nouadays. Steven McNicoll is the quintessential being of mirthful jolly, with his red sack and ginger beard, Nouadays is the epitome of a Scottish Christmas. McNichol’s presence brings a needed vitality to the spirit realm, following an unmemorable Ghost of Langsyne, and the grim prospects of the Ghost of Ayont from Eva Traynor and Taqi Nazeer.

The ingenuity for this Spectre, Ayont, a headless drummer boy is colossal in imagination, though also in size. As his rhythmic beats echo into the night, this is the section of the tale we sadists enjoy. The warnings Scrooge endures, the fate which may befall the selfish man as he realises the suffering he has caused and the path to redemption. The prevalent issue of tone direction is at its most evident here, where the production still cannot grasp the haunting of Dicken’s classic with Cownie’s direction. As Scrooge, in what should be his final moments of crushing realisation against the sombre beat of a headless drummer, sits jarringly lost among uneven humour and awkward delivery.

This humour, which strays into Pantomime territory at times, dips from over-the-top, obvious and into misplaced. Choice gags, which should be hitting the rafters, fall short at the audiences’ feet as a few timing issues pervade. In tune with every ounce of the humour, running away with the loudest, most significant deliveries is Grant O’Rourke. His performance is distinctive, even against the choruses onstage. The moments are short but considerably steady in appearances. His chemistry with the puppets is fluid, responding to Edie Edmundson’s puppetry naturally and with exceptional effect.

Tiny Tim, as tiny, as can be, is a scale rod-puppet along with Bobby the dug, the very same of Greyfriars’ Kirkyard fame. Cownie has spliced Bobby rather well with the story, a sprinkling of flavour rather than a forceful injection of a narrative. It’s a connection with the community, and the craft of the puppets matches the technical levels of stage design.

What we have is a decent production, akin to those gifts we receive from aunts and uncles; pleasant, harmless, but fails to live up to expectations. Now, these are not the words of a Scrooge. The implication is that such tremendous talent, innovative design-work and ideas seem to have been watered down. It’s frustrating, given Tony Cownie’s strikingly sensational works with The Belle’s Stratagem and Thon Man Molière that An Edinburgh Christmas Carol fails to hit the right notes, there seems to have been pulled punches out of worry from Edinburgh’s most dreadful force – middle-class parents. 

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol runs at The Royal Lyecum until January 4th 2020. Tickets available here:

Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic