DramaFestive 18/19ReviewScotland

McGonagall’s Chronicles (Which Will Be Remembered For A Very Long Time) – The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: Gary McNair

Director: Joe Douglas

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Whatever you may have expected from McGonagall’s Chronicles– you were probably wrong. Attend the tale of William Topaz McGonagall a Dundonian weaver. Or perhaps as you may know him as the world’s worst poet. Yes, that’s who we’re celebrating this afternoon folks. And why not rejoice in the efforts of this man? Who spanned the globe, for better or worse (mainly worse) taking the chances so few of us would have.

Fresh off of two successful runs at the Festival Fringe and the Traverse’s Pie, Pint and Play, Gary McNair along with Brian James O’Sullivan & Simon Liddell return this Winter. Told primarily through McGonagall’s own tool – the spoken word, mixed with some embellished jokes, songs and awkward but triumphantly recovered line flubs, Gary McNair chronicles the life of this downtrodden, god-awful poet. 

A tad like McGonagall the entire set up is humble, charming but eccentrically entertaining. With some browning lettuce strewn at the feet of the front row, we are welcome to become involved. For McGonagall’s critics were not safely hidden behind a screen. Instead, the mobs would jeer, berate and unfortunately assault him in the open. As McNair channels our lamenting poet, he speaks directly to us – the audience. Not a judge or jury, but merely listeners. 

Told entirely through verse, well to an extent, McNair doesn’t attempt to place McGonagall on a pedestal. In fact, rather like our titular poet, he revels in how utterly dismal he could be. The stanzas do not match, instead of stretched or sliced in order to force in a rhyme. So, as we pre-guess a word to fit in with a lyric, we may have the stage pulled from under us with something totally different to garner a laugh. The level of creativity involved is astronomical, words are utter putty in that hands of McNair and O’Sullivan. The pair converse, egg each other saving the production feeling too hollow. 

In the sidecar of a word is a song, it’s brethren in art. Brian James O’Sullivan, taking multiple roles from critic to misses brings a much-needed musical interlude. If anything, one or two more would have been appreciated to break the segments more. It’s here we get an insight, more clearly spelt out for those unfamiliar with the spoken word. Directly singing about how “you seldom get a story if you’re from the working class” makes us realise how little has really changed. The trials one must go through to expose themselves to art. If we have wealth, the risk is significantly lowered. 

It’s real life folks, more often than not we are without a happy ending. This isn’t the crux of the tale though, whilst McNair openly says we don’t know all the ins and outs, it cannot be said that McGonagall’s life was one for not trying. “All men live, and all men pass” – words which echo hauntingly as McGonagall’s tale ends. It has depth and just enough levity to force the dourness to yield. 

So, was McGonagall a genius? Or was he just an absolute chancer? Regardless, he lived the life he wanted to lead and for that, we celebrate. And what a celebration, with a few hiccups the boys have produced something engaging, entertaining and created a valuable piece of theatre and spoken word. McGonagall couldn’t have done better himself… trust me on that one.  

Runs until: December 15 2018 | Image:  Contributed

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