It's all gone a bit Caledonian at the Finborough Theatre with this satirical comedy set in the 18th century about the union between England and Scotland.
Wherever Scots stand on independence, Robert McLellan’s play about eighteenth-century Edinburgh is likely to be all things to all of them. Those disappointed by a no vote can say it was ever thus with the auld enemy. And anyone chuffed by a yes vote can bask in the warm glory of a charming comedy written in the mither tongue. The story itself from 1948 is about an eighteenth-century dandy affecting fine English manners to get ahead it in London’s newly shared parliament. It is, however, more a comedy of Edinburgh manners, as the merchant classes come to terms with the 1707 Act of Union: a guilty commercial compromise that enshrined Scotland’s little brother status.
Monolingual sassenachs may struggle with the language, which is at times impenetrable. The period action is also somewhat tangential to modern political debate but the characters’ core gripe remains the same: should Scotland pursue progress on its own terms or as a junior partner to the English? There is also subtle contempt for the word ‘British’ which provides a fig-leaf for English economic interests secured by bloodshed at the battle of Culloden. Otherwise it’s a Sheridanesque comedy about wayward sons and grouchy patriarchs, accessorised with a grand dame and a surly girly.
Squeezing the cast of 12 into the Finborough’s shoebox space is no mean feat in Jennifer Bakst hale-and-hearty production. There is also a handsome, atmospheric set of wood panels, flock wallpaper and flickering candles from Phillip Lindley. Needless gurning among some of the cast lowers the tone, but Finlay Bain cuts a nicely petulant dandy, Tom Durant-Pritchard is an effortless English toff and Leigh Lothian’s surly girly is so modern she issues a fist pumping ‘yesss!’ With a full spectrum of other Scots who are dour and delightful, McLellan distils something ineffably peaty that’s an acquired but intoxicating and well-matured taste.