The year is 1943, the setting a Cooperative Hall… take an all female Theatre Troupe, add a stalwart comedy writer and you have playing a production of Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore.
York Theatre Royal
Till Sat Apr 28
It is an erstwhile Ealing Comedy and I remember it being the subject of many TV repeats in my childhood.
Wartime nostalgia abounds as the play tells the story of two Hebridian islands: named: Great and Little Todday. The government are busy diverting all supplies of whisky to the USA in an attempt to bribe the Americans into supporting the war effort.
The islanders are running out of booze when magically, a ship carrying a cargo of 50,000 cases of whisky is wrecked on their doorstep; cue a game of cat and mouse with the authorities and the fun begins.
Play within a play
The plot predictably includes, much hiding of whisky from the Home Guard and Customs employees and the problems of attempting to plan two different weddings against family intervention.
So far so good, the adaptor Philip Goulding, has added the device of a play within a play. In his version it is performed by an all female Theatre Company something which was popular between the wars.
Thus we move away from the original concept and the cast of seven take 26 parts exploiting this framing device to the full.
The set designed by Patrick Connellan cleverly uses wooden crates which ingeniously are turned into ships, cars and quaysides. Scenery is created by using objects on sticks which move across the stage, Costume is basically land girls plus fours with various additions, hurriedly donned as characters change roles.
All these ingredients should have produced an excellent comedy but although the director: Kevin Shaw runs the play with pace and energy, it lacks true cohesion.
All seven actors work hard but somehow we don’t get the edge of farce which was much needed. There are some excellent performances: Christine Mackie doubles adroitly as the suave Doctor Maclaren and the battleaxe Mrs Campbell, Shauna Snow plays a brilliantly observed Cockney Sergeant but elsewhere the humour is applied with a very large brush stroke and often misses the mark.
Part of the problem lies in the plot which doesn’t introduce the ship wreck until after the interval. We have met the island characters but need more substance for them to work with and more sharp dialogue.
I loved the use of the setting and props but there was no real physical comedy and the whole piece felt dated. When one considers that there was a heavy rumour that Dad’s Army was based on Compton’s Keep The Home Guard Turning the talent of the author seems to have been much diluted.
However, the Oldham Colliseum, Hull truck and New Young Vic Theatre provided the audience with a free dram and much ambient Scottish music… it’s just a pity that the director and adaptor failed to get the tone and style right.
It was a huge opportunity missed and perhaps another reason to curtail the recent outbreak of adaptations.