Published in The Times, Thursday April 23 2015
The question of how to dramatise Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 novel has inspired some ingenious adaptations down the years, including a live radio broadcast and a musical. This enjoyable new version, by Iain Finlay Macleod, gets round the problem of staging the wartime shipwreck that brings thousands of cases of whisky into the hands of a grateful island community by employing a framing device in which present-day inhabitants of the Hebridean island of Todday re-enact the legend for an Irish incomer.
Performed in Gaelic with English surtitles, the action plays out in the enclosed world created by Claire Halliard’s detailed pub set, with the warm glow extending into the hall, where the audience are seated at tables — at times you feel as if you could pull up a stool at the bar and join in. As in Mackenzie’s novel, and the much-loved Ealing film comedy, the story of the wrecking of the SS Cabinet Minister — and locals’ attempts to conceal their bounty — is interwoven with snapshots of island life, including sweet, hesitant courtships in past and present-day settings. Staying true to the spirit rather than the letter of the original, Macleod pokes fun at popular stereotypes of remote island communities as backwaters, untouched by technology or popular culture.
Although the surtitles struggle at times to keep pace with Guy Hollands’s brisk direction, and the script packs a little too much incident into an hour, there’s much to enjoy in this co-production from the National Theatre of Scotland and Rohanis, a new Gaelic-language company. The five-strong cast do well by Macleod’s amiable script, with Julie Hale and Iain Macrae touching as a pair of locals edging towards an autumnal romance.
Touring Scotland to May 15. nationaltheatrescotland.com