Sunday, 7 September 2014

Theatre review: The Flouers o'Edinburgh

The Finborough is, surprisingly enough, the only London theatre to be marking the upcoming independence referendum in Scotland. It does so with the mini-season Scotland Decides/Tha Alba a'taghadh 2014, which has as its centrepiece a comic look at the social consequences of merging two nations who'd spent much of their history at war. First seen in 1948, Robert McLellan's The Flouers o'Edinburgh is set among the noble, if not as well-off as they used to be, denizens of Georgian Edinburgh. Girzie (Jenny Lee) has lost her lands and fortune, but finds solace in fiery niece Kate (Leigh Lothian.) Forbidding herself from marrying her good friend Sir Charles (Kevin McMonagle) until her brother returns from the army, Girzie puts her efforts intsead into finding a husband and stability for Kate. Sir Charles' son seems a perfect candidate, as he and Kate were good friends as children.

But Charlie (Finlay Bain) has spent the last few years in London, and when he returns he's full of his own importance, set on a political career - and speaking English. Although not actually in a foreign language there's moments when The Flouers o'Edinburgh feels like it, especially in the opening scenes as you get used to the very strong Scots accents and dialect used by most of the characters. This probably explains why it's not been seen in London before, but any inacessibility is made up for by a lot of fun.

There's other problems with the play - it's overlong, and spends far too much time on unnecessary details about Charlie's dodgy plans for when he takes office. The worst effect of this is that it keeps Kate and Charlie apart for too long, as they're both a joy individually, but Lothian's determinedly unladylike behaviour and Bain's obnoxious prissiness are even Better Together (ahem.)

Jennifer Bakst, who directed one of my favourite shows of last year at the Finborough, returns to the helm for a production that builds in comic inventiveness as it goes on. A large cast contribute to a fun couple of hours, including Tom Durant-Pritchard as an English officer who catches Kate's eye, and Robert Bradley endearingly awkward as Charlie's friend Sandy. Richard Stirling has a fun cameo as a reverend whose poetry hasn't quite met with the public approval he'd hoped for, and when Girzie's brother (David Gooderson) finally returns, he has a great gag about the importance of a strong, united Germany, that must have been particularly edgy when the play was first produced.

Nigh on three hours is way too long for what's essentially a pretty frothy comedy, and anyone who has trouble understanding a fairly strong Scots dialect will probably feel a bit alienated, so The Flouers o'Edinburgh is unlikely to set London alight now that it's finally arrived here. But as a response to the referendum it's a cannily affectionate look at a sometimes awkward partnership, and probably the funniest, silliest thing the Finborough's dug out of the archives since Quality Street.

The Flouers o'Edinburgh by Robert McLellan is booking until the 27th of September at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including interval.

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