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Whisky Galore – Theatre Royal, York

Writer: Compton Mackenzie

Adapted by: Philip Goulding

Director: Kevin Shaw

Designer: Patrick Connellan

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Oldham Coliseum’s touring production of Whisky Galore is based on at least three promising ideas. Unfortunately, in Philip Goulding’s stylish, but dramatically inert, script and Kevin Shaw’s oddly conservative direction, none comes to fruition. Indeed sometimes the intentions seem to conflict with each other. The evening has its charms, but little momentum and too few laughs.

The original story written by Compton Mackenzie in 1947 may be old-fashioned in some ways, but that has not stopped a 2016 remake of the highly popular 1940s film. The story still has huge potential for farce. In wartime, the inhabitants of two neighbouring Hebridean islands have just run out of whisky when a ship bound for America with a cargo of Scotch goes aground. The battle between the canny islanders and the pompous English Home Guard captain in league with the excise men takes place against a background of long-standing feuds and squabbles and the attempts of two young couples to get married in the face of parental opposition on religious or cultural grounds. 

Surely an affectionate parody on the lines of The Thirty Nine Steps would intensify the fun – and, indeed, the make-do-and-mend staging is amusing and attractive. In Patrick Connellan’s designs, barge-like blocks are manoeuvred around the stage, forming themselves into ships, cars, studies and whatever is called for.

The final piece in the jigsaw is provided by the example of the Osiris Players who, for nearly 40 years, toured the country in two Rolls Royces with trailers, setting up in schools, barns, church halls, etc., with a vast repertoire of plays performed (irrespective of the number and gender of the characters) by seven women. Wouldn’t it be jolly to present Whisky Galore as it might have been performed by seven indomitable ladies in the 1950s? But it doesn’t fit. All accounts suggest that Osiris productions were seriously impressive, if rather eccentric, and the self-parodying funny walks, excessive accents and absurd poses of Shaw’s production belong more to the world of Monty Python – and that was a good deal funnier!

Paradoxically the production goes too far over the top and yet not far enough – depending on which of its aims one considers. The narrative fails to grip – we’re halfway through the play before the ship hits the rocks – and worries about pace are hinted at by the fact that the production appears to have lost 15 minutes between Oldham and York.

There are plenty of neat, if relatively predictable, gags based around mistimed effects and the “meeting yourself coming back” possibilities of seven actors playing 30-odd parts, all of this enhanced by the conceit of one of the actors being new to the company and not yet bedded in.

All seven actors are creditably versatile and some of the performances, though certainly not the majority, are surprisingly convincing. Sally Armstrong has the advantage of playing the director, Flora Bellerby (Goulding’s choice of names for the acting company is spot on), so spends a fair bit of the evening at only one remove from reality. Isabel Ford channels Captain Mainwaring for Captain Waggett and Christine Mackie’s impressive portfolio of parts as Win Hewitt includes the splendidly baleful Mrs. Campbell.

Touring nationwide | Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Writer: Compton Mackenzie Adapted by: Philip Goulding Director: Kevin Shaw Designer: Patrick Connellan Reviewer: Ron Simpson Oldham Coliseum’s touring production of Whisky Galore is based on at least three promising ideas. Unfortunately, in Philip Goulding’s stylish, but dramatically inert, script and Kevin Shaw’s oddly conservative direction, none comes to fruition. Indeed sometimes the intentions seem to conflict with each other. The evening has its charms, but little momentum and too few laughs. The original story written by Compton Mackenzie in 1947 may be old-fashioned in some ways, but that has not stopped a 2016 remake of the highly popular 1940s…

Review Overview

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Disappointing

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.