Leah Byrne

The Scent of Roses

10/03/22

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

After an unfortunate delay, due to the continuing saga of the dreaded COVID 19, The Scent of Roses is finally with us and it’s been well worth the wait. A timely meditation on the nature of everyday lies and the importance of finally speaking the truth, Zinnie Harris’s spiky, ambitious play is beautifully realised within Tom Piper’s austere set design. Initially claustrophobic, a suburban bedroom is gradually opened out like an ingenious puzzle box to reveal unexpected depths and wider horizons.

We’re somewhere in Scotland in the near future, where the summer temperatures are soaring and where birds are liable to fall from the skies for no explicable reason – and everywhere there’s the unpleasant odour of dying flowers.

Chris (Peter Forbes) and his wife, Luci (Neve Mcintosh), are having a heart-to-heart in their bedroom. Chris has little choice in the matter, because Luci has locked them both inside and hidden the key. It seems to be the only way she can get him to open up to her. Chris, it seems, has not been entirely truthful about his fidelity over the years and, it turns out, Luci has a terrible secret of her own to share with him.

Meanwhile, their daughter, Caitlin (Leah Byrne), arrives at the house of her former teacher (and lover), Sally (Saskia Ashdown), carrying a dead crow in her bloodstained hands. Caitlin claims to have run over the unfortunate bird on her bike – but then she also adds that she’s just murdered her father. It quickly becomes clear that Caitlin is a serial liar and we shouldn’t take anything she says for granted.

It’s only when Sally heads over to meet up with her estranged mother (Maureen Beattie) that the various strands of this Gordian knot of a storyline are finally unravelled before being skilfully retied. The cast all handle their roles admirably (particularly Beattie as the long-suffering mother who must put her own triumphs on hold in order to see to her daughter’s issues) and Harris handles the directorial reins with assurance. Ben Ormerod’s lighting design floods the stage with a palpable swathe of brilliant ‘heat.’

After a recent diet of tried-and-tested crowdpleasers, this is exactly the kind of theatre I’ve been longing for – mature, challenging and above all else, thought-provoking; so much so that my companion and I immediately head off to a local drinking den to discuss it at great length.

Which accounts for the fact that I’m writing this with a wee bit of a hangover.

At least, that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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