Sunday, 2 June 2013

Theatre review: The Blood is Strong

Continuing its work representing all four nations of the United Kingdom, the Finborough's latest show looks at the looming possibility of one of those nations getting lopped off the map. Set in 2011, in the runup to Scottish Parliamentary elections that would go well for the Scottish National Party and open the door to the Independence referendum, David Hutchison's The Blood is Strong compares England and Scotland to a long-standing music hall partnership - they don't always get on, but they've been important to each other for too long to throw it away. Alec (Martin Buchan) is a veteran of the Scottish Music Hall, a singer of romanticised ballads still loved by many but unpopular with the nationalists who see this musical tradition as peddling a Disneyfied, saccharine version of their country. Married to the English Maisie (Janet Amsden,) Alex is quietly pro-Union, but his fiercely intelligent daughter feels differently.

Jean (Margaret-Ann Bain) is standing as an SNP candidate in the election and though on speaking terms with her father is still trying to convince her mother to leave him after a drunken incident that saw Maisie temporarily move out. She has introduced Alec to a filmmaker who wants to make a documentary about his life and career but there may be a sting in this too.

I find the idea of Scotland leaving the Union rather sad (and not just because we'd never get the fucking Tories out in my lifetime if they did) and this sadness permeates the play, but it does aim to entertain in its debate as well. Buchan makes a good flawed hero, embodying this sadness but with a hope that the right decision will get made - his feelings symbolised by a subplot where he meets up again with the music hall partner (Alistair Findlay) he split from some years earlier. On the opposite side of the argument sit Jean and her ex-boyfriend Ian (handsome Steven Miller.) Unbeknownst to Alec, Ian has expressed some pretty contemptuous views of "tartanry" in music, and the documentary may in fact be intended as a hatchet job to promote the nationalist cause.

This younger generation is shown as full of enthusiasm and optimism, but though Hutchison gives both sides of the argument time, he clearly sees them as peddling a naïve fairytale of the future Scotland - as much a falsehood as the tourist-friendly tartan past Alec's songs celebrate. Stuck between this clash of young and old is an adorable turn from Neil McNulty as Tweedie, a chaotic young shop owner with a love for the old music, but no business nous to help sell it to a new generation.

Bruce Guthrie's production is lively and puts forward its political discussion in an interesting way, but Hutchison's storytelling is a bit loose - by the end it's easy to pull together the thematic strands but while it's going on it can feel frustratingly lacking in focus as we meander around the plotlines. But it does have moments of power and the production boasts some fine performances.

The Blood is Strong by David Hutchison is booking in repertory until the 4th of June at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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