Review: A-Z of Dundee – Rio Community Centre, Newport-on-Tay

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First published in The Times, Monday June 3 2019

Three Stars

This irreverent celebration of the City of Discovery could hardly be timelier. Dundee has undergone a renaissance in recent years, the most striking symbol of which, the V&A Dundee, opened its doors in 2018. Last year, the city was included in the Wall Street Journal’s top ten global travel destinations and was described in GQ magazine as “Britain’s coolest little city”.

Such accolades are a long way from the “three Js” of jute, jam and journalism that were the pillars of Dundee’s industrial and cultural identity. It is to the credit of this alphabetical journey through the city’s history that local icons such as the Verdant Works, the old Keiller factory and the newspaper publisher DC Thomson are only mentioned in passing. “I can’t think of a single thing for ‘J’,” the performer Barrie Hunter says, with a knowing twinkle.

Leanne Traynor. Photo credit Viktoria Begg

Pic: Viktoria Begg

Some well-known figures and tales do pop up in John and Gerry Kielty’s musical rundown of the city’s greatest hits. Winston Churchill, who was MP for the city, makes an appearance but is upstaged by the Irish suffragette Mary Maloney (Emily Winter), who followed him around during an election campaign in 1908 and rang a huge bell every time he spoke.

 

William Topaz McGonagall, widely regarded as the English language’s worst poet, is also celebrated, with Ross Allan giving a surprisingly moving rendition of his infamous work, The Tay Bridge Disaster.

L-R. Leanne Traynor, Ross Allan, Irene Macdougall, Barrie Hunter, Emily Winter, John Kietly. Photo credit Viktoria Begg

Pic: Viktoria Begg

Other stories are less familiar, including the tale of the nine maidens devoured by a dragon, which made its way onto the city’s coat of arms, as well as the haunting of the Howff, a local burial ground. We also learn of the city’s connections to Jack the Ripper, Bigfoot and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

 

In a stripped-back show that is touring community venues around Dundee and Angus, the Kielty Brothers’ script wears its politics lightly, poking gentle fun at local exceptionalism while acknowledging the less glamorous aspects of the city’s reputation. (“It’s not all bad,” says one local resident, interviewed for the show.) Ewan Donald’s production is action-packed and energetic if a little overstuffed at times. It will delight those in the know as well as those just beginning to get to grips with the city and her people.

 

Touring to June 22. Box office: 01382 223530

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