The Broons

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 Broons: Maggie’s Wedding

01/11/16

The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The Broons are a much-loved Scottish institution. It’s hard to believe that, as a popular comic strip,  they have featured in The Sunday Post since 1936 – which makes this theatrical celebration an 80th anniversary event. Written by Rob Drummond and directed by Andrew Panton, it was originally commissioned and developed by Sell A Door Theatre Company and as you might expect, given the subject, there’s a robust cartoonish feel to the show. Maw and Paw Broon (Joyce Falconer and Paul Riley) preside over their working class family in the fictional town of Auchentogle, with real pride and plenty of love. As the title might suggest, the events of the play lead up to the marriage of Maggie (Kim Allan) to the (unseen) Cameron. But Maw doesn’t much like the idea of her little princess leaving the family home – and when she finds out that other members of the family are also planning to move away, she quickly takes steps to ensure that such a thing will never happen…

I’ll be the first to admit that having only recently moved to Scotland, I really don’t have much of a backstory with these characters and consequently, many of the ‘in’ jokes (which elicited roars of appreciative laughter from tonight’s audience) went completely over my head; but there was still much to enjoy here, particularly Laura Szalecki’s portrayal of the man-hungry Daphne and Duncan Brown as the monumentally thick Englishman, Jock Badge, who thinks the term ‘4 to 6 years’ on a jigsaw puzzle is an indication of how long it might take him to put it together.

As events scamper joyfully along,  the actors slip effortlessly from character to character and, since this is a play with music, just about everyone bashes out a tune on some kind of musical instrument at various points in the proceedings. The overall effect is charming and though I don’t really agree with the play’s ultimate message – that it’s better to stay with what you know than to seek out new experiences – it certainly chimes with a story that has remained totally unchanged for so very long. And who could fail to enjoy the rousing singalong at the conclusion that pays tribute to a whole host of Scottish talent from The Waterboys to The Bay City Rollers?

If you’re a fan of these fictional folk, you certainly won’t want to miss this; and, if you’re merely curious as to what the fuss is all about, you’ll still be in for an entertaining night.

4 stars

Philip Caveney