Grant McIntyre

Oor Wullie: The Musical

28/01/20

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Jings and crivvens!

Wullie and I are old acquaintances. He appeared every week in the comics I read as a child back in the 1960s, but he first saw the light of day in 1936 and has endured over the decades, recently clocking up his eightieth anniversary. Last year, his image made millions for charity with the Big Bucket Trail, which featured individually decorated statues of the iconic kid from Auchenshoogle in various locations around Scotland.

This musical, by the same team who brought The Broons to the stage, features  a sprightly and raucous collection of songs in a wide range of styles. The simplicity of the storyline would seem to make it a good fit for a younger audience. Indeed, the kids in the auditorium tonight are clearly enjoying the proceedings (especially when Wullie’s pet mouse, Jeemy, makes an appearance), but the majority of the audience are older people, here to reconnect with something fondly remembered from their childhoods.

Wahid (Eklovey Kashyap) is a teenage boy, born in Scotland to Pakistani parents. He’s having a hard time fitting in, forever being asked if he ‘likes his new home.’ Well-meaning neighbours ask him where he’s really from, while the school bullies enjoy making fun of him at every opportunity. Wahid is Scottish, but somehow, ‘not-Scottish,’ and he’s beginning to struggle with his own identity.

In the school library, he meets up with the mysterious librarian (George Brennan), who gives him an Oor Wullie annual to read, telling him it’s the perfect introduction to ‘being Scottish.’ Wahid is somewhat taken aback when Wullie (Martin Quinn) appears in his bedroom, claiming to be in search of his famous bucket, which has unexpectedly gone missing. Wahid remembers that he saw just such a bucket in the school library, so the two of them set off in search of it.

It isn’t long before Wullie is joined by his gang – Bob (Dan Buckley), Wee Eck (Grant McIntyre), Soapy Soutar (Bailey Newsome) and Primrose (Leah Byrne). They are not surprised to discover that the bucket has been purloined by arch enemy, Basher McKenzie (Leanne Traynor), and the kids enlist their old adversary PC Murdoch (Ann Louise Ross) to help them retrieve it. In the second half, the comic book characters take Wahid into the fictional world of Auchenshoogle, where their clothes transform from black and white into full colour.

Valiant attempts are made to make Wullie more relevant to a modern day audience. There’s a song that features him performing a duet with Alexa, for instance and there’s a nice bit of inclusivity where the cast put on saris and leap about to a bhangra-style tune. PC Murdoch gets an opportunity to strut his stuff to a rock song and there’s some funny interplay between him and an amorous teacher (Irene MacDougall).

If there’s an over-riding problem, however, it’s that the drama fails to generate any genuine sense of peril. Wullie wants his bucket back, but we’re never entirely sure why its so important to him, nor indeed what will happen if he doesn’t get it. The result is never less than knockabout fun, but here’s a musical that doesn’t seem entirely sure about what kind of audience it’s trying to appeal to.

To my mind, it’s surely one for the kids, assuming you can get them away from their phones and tablets for a couple of hours. Wullie has been an enduring character over the decades and there’s no reason why a new generation of youngsters shouldn’t fall for his charms, given half a chance.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Addams Family

25/04/17

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

The Addams Family have had a long and varied gestation to get to this point. Originally created by cartoonist and namesake, Charles Addams, they first saw the light of day in 1938 as a series of single frame cartoons in The New Yorker, though in those days none of the characters had names and the term ‘Addams Family’ hadn’t even been coined. That happened in 1964, when the family became the subject of a long running TV series. In the 70s, they joined Scooby Doo in an animation and then were given their own cartoon series. In 1991, they got the big screen live action treatment, a huge hit which was followed by another successful movie – and then one straight-to-video instalment that nobody seems to want to talk about. And finally, in 2010, this musical by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and Andrew Lippa debuted on Broadway, where it ran for 722 performances. Which brings us to the Festival Theatre, the show’s first stop on a major tour of the UK.

This is evidently a franchise with enduring appeal and it’s clear from tonight’s packed auditorium that the audience isn’t just comprised of old timers out to relive a childhood favourite. The majority of the crowd is made up of people in their 20s, proof it ever it were needed that some concepts will always find a new audience. The overriding appeal of this fictional family is, of course that, weird and unconventional as they are, they actually exemplify good old-fashioned values. Gomez (Cameron Blakely) is an excellent father, Morticia (Samantha Womack) is the consummate mother and the two of them really do have the interests of their extended family close to their hearts. Actually, it’s sobering to note that as time time goes by, their weirdness seems to diminish when set against what’s happening in the real world.

In this version of the tale, Wednesday Addams (Carrie Hope Fletcher) is at that dangerous age and has fallen in love with a (whisper it) ordinary guy called Lucas (Oliver Ormson). She’s even talking about marrying him. Gomez’s instinct is to hide the news from his wife, who he knows will not be pleased at the idea, but how can he do that when Wednesday has invited Lucas and his straight-laced parents round for dinner? What will they make of Wednesday’s odd little brother, Pugsley (Grant McIntyre), who worries that he will miss out on those sibling torture sessions he enjoys so much? What will they think of the potion-dispensing Grandma (Valda Aviks) or Gomez’s weird brother, Fester (a barely recognisable Les Dennis) who spends most of his time trying to work out how he can get to his own true love… the moon? And Lurch… what about Lurch?

It’s a promising concept and, of course, it’s brilliantly conceived and presented, with faultless performances, note-perfect singing, brilliantly choreographed dancing and a host of eye-catching costumes. If I have a criticism, it’s simply that having set up such a delicious idea, the writers somehow fail to develop it any further and what we get is a series of beautifully realised set pieces that fail to progress the story any further. But, having said that, there’s still plenty here to enjoy, not least the performance of Charlotte Page as Lucas’s uptight Mom, Alice, who conceals an entirely different persona behind that meek and mild front.

And there’s certainly no doubting the enthusiasm of the standing ovation the cast receive as they take their final bows. It’s clear that, despite being in existence for something like seventy years, there’s life in this franchise yet. What next, I wonder? The Addams Family on Mars? Don’t laugh, it could happen.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney