PQA Venues at Riddle’s Court, Edinburgh
Marie Kohler’s Boswell is an interesting play, offering insight into the relationship between Boswell (Brian Gill) and Johnson (Brian Mani). As the two men embark on their famous 1773 tour of Scotland, they are joined onstage by Joanie Weinstein (Abbey Siegworth), a 1950s American academic, in the UK to research Johnson. Her studies lead her to straight-talking Fiona (Laura Gordon), widow of one of Boswell’s direct descendants, and owner of a trove of unseen documents. Initially dismayed to discover the boxes contain far more Boswell than Johnson, Joanie soon finds herself fascinated by the former’s candid journals, and is determined to find out more about the libidinous ‘scribbler’.
The action cuts nicely between the two time periods. Joanie is ever present; it’s her reading of Boswell’s papers that is being played before us. The script is well-written, with witty dialogue and an energetic pace. Of course it takes liberties with the facts – it’s a play, not a historical document – but it evokes the 1770s well, and gives a real sense of the men’s relationship.
I like most of the humour. An early scene where David Garrick makes an appearance is particularly amusing, and Johnson’s curmudgeonly dismissal of the Scots is laugh out loud funny. Less successful are the repeated ‘don’t Scottish people sound funny?’ lines, particularly as – with the exception of Brian Gill – the Scottish accents deployed by the actors are uniformly atrocious (the acting is generally very good, but those accents… oh dear…). This is, it must be said, a bit tone-deaf.
The thawing of hostilities between Joanie and Fiona is nicely drawn, and the parallels between the two friendships are clear. It’s a neat trick to introduce David Hume as well, one-time inhabitant of this venue here at Riddle’s Court.