THE FLOUERS OF EDINBURGH
by Robert McLellan.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 89ED To 27 September 2014.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 September.
A vivid Scots voice brought back to the stage.
Despite the Finborough programme, Scottish playwright Robert McLellan’s comedy is not “currently playing at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre” (it was there in 1996; this year’s Scottish classic is Mr Bolfry by James Bridie, another significant voice in mid-20th Century Scottish drama whose work you’ll not find in any official national theatre around these isles)
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bridie turning-up at the Finborough however, the tiny theatre that matches plenty of British and world premieres with an extensive survey of theatre’s unfairly neglected back catalogue. McLellan’s 1948 comedy is mainstay of the theatre’s repertoire for Scottish independence Referendum month.
It’s a fine fit. The 18th-century setting easily suggests the post-1707 Acts of Union period, where Scottish pride and feelings of inferiority to the big neighbour to the south conflict. Married to this is a busy comic plot about – marriage.
Girzie, Lady Athelstane, attempts marriage-making for herself and others. The plotting is intricate to the borders of clarity (and occasionally beyond). But McLellan and his age tended towards full verbal exposition, a style less apt for modern audiences able to snap across synapses in dramatic construction.
He has genuine affection for occupants and visitors alike in Girzie’s Old Town apartment. And his use of Scots (a language English ears can often follow, and flavoursomely enjoyable even in moments of less clarity) sets up fine rhythms and comic sentence structures to rival Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward.
For language is the thing – attempts to drop Scots speech and accent in Flouers generally indicate social-climbing go-getters. A final love-match depends upon the worst offender reverting to his native tones.
All this comes across well enough in Jennifer Bakst’s revival;.if some moments might be more deftly handled, there’s much to enjoy, from the opening where family servant Jock tries combining obedience to his sense of independence. He acts as a barometer of sympathy – the more a character appreciates Jock the kindlier disposed we are to them.
Jenny Lee and Kevin McMonagle bring human complexity to the older, established pair, so that their own final act of union provides a deeply satisfying end.
Jock Carmichael: Lewis Rae.
Kate Mair: Leigh Lothian.
Girzie: Jenny Lee.
Jeanie/Bell Baxter: Dani Arlington.
Sir Charles Gilchrist: Kevin McMonagle.
Charles Gilchrist: Finlay Bain.
Rev Daniel of Dowie: Richard Stirling.
Baldernock/Nabob: Andrew Loudon.
Sandy/Bailie: Robert Bradley.
Captain Simkin: Tom Durant-Pritchard.
General: David Gooderson.
Director: Jennifer Bakst.
Designer: Phillip Lindley.
Lighting: Ciaran Cunningham.
Sound/Composer: Simon Slater.
Costume: Rose Adolph.