First published in The Times, Friday May 29 2015
The 1991 BBC adaptation of Roberto Cossa’s La Nona featured no less a comedy legend than the late Les Dawson in the title role. By the same token the cast list for this National Theatre of Scotland production reads like a who’s who of Scottish comedy, with Rab C Nesbitt star Gregor Fisher returning to the stage for the first time in 30 years to tackle the pitiless 100-year-old matriarch who literally eats her family out of house and home.
Douglas Maxwell’s new version relocates the action from Buenos Aires to the west of Scotland in the year of the Queen’s silver jubilee. Cammy (Jonathan Watson), head of the embattled Russo clan, hopes to reopen the family fish and chip shop in time for the celebrations, but his modest income has to support several undeserving relatives, including his bone idle musician brother Charlie (Paul Riley) and spinster aunt Angela (Barbara Rafferty).
Pic: Manuel Harlan
The biggest drain on Cammy’s finances is Fisher’s Nana, whose insatiable appetite extends to slurping stew from the pan and devouring chocolates, box and all. Faced with ruin, the family resorts to increasingly desperate measures. When Charlie’s attempt to lose Nana at the funfair proves unsuccessful he and Cammy hatch a plan to marry her off to decrepit rival chippy owner Donny Francisco (a memorable cameo from Brian Pettifer).
Graham McLaren’s production certainly gets the period feel right, with the increasingly frantic action played out against the backdrop of designer Colin Richmond’s shabby 1970s living room. Maxwell’s script includes a couple of inspired set pieces, but tonally it falls between two stools. As a satire on the dehumanising effects of poverty it’s not brutal or outrageous enough, but neither does it invest its characters with sufficient emotional depth to make us care what happens to them. Fisher amuses as the maggot-like Nana, but he’s surprisingly peripheral to the main action. A shame.
Box office: 0844 871 7648, to May 30; then touring Scotland and Northern Ireland to July 4. For details see nationaltheatrescotland.com