This is my kind of way to join the debate about Scottish independence. As those north of the border go to the ballot box, Londoners should vote with their feet and visit the Finborough Theatre’s new production of The Flouers o’ Edinburgh. Set not long after the Acts of Union in 1707, it raises pointed issues of identity and politics, but in such an endearingly comedic fashion that the topics feel light and fresh.
Jennifer Bakst’s direction makes the play easy entertainment, controlling potential touches of farce and opting for a gentle comedy that is close to frothy. There’s plenty of satire but nothing mean spirited and, since politics is one of the topics, it ticks the ‘timeless’ box. Philip Lindley’s set and Rose Adolph’s costumes are impressive. The cast is huge for such a small venue and the standard of acting high. It all bounces along very merrily indeed.
Maybe the play feels so sprightly because of the romance at its heart. It’s Sir Charles and Aunt Girzie’s intention that his son and her niece should marry, but should the elder couple get together as well? Kevin McMonagle and Jenny Lee perform with such twinkles in their eyes, we yearn for their union. The younger Charles and his intended Kate have obstacles to overcome, namely his snobbery and ambition, all ripe for mockery. Finlay Bain plays Charles Jnr with great stage presence but a touch too much restraint. Leigh Lothian’s Kate is feisty and much more fun.
The hot topic is whether or not to abandon the Scottish language for English. Young Charles is an early adopter, to the disgust of all, especially Kate, who continues to speak in Scots. But rejecting the mother tongue is the only way to get ahead in public life. The playwright Robert McLellan makes his political point well, but what’s remarkable here is that, despite the language used, comprehension is easy. There’s a lot a Sassenach might not know but Lee, in particular, still manages to make you laugh. McLellan was committed to writing in Scots. It’s telling that this 1948 play is only now receiving its English premiere. This fine play is a very welcome import.
Until 27 September 2014
Photo by Ciaran Cunningham
Written 3 September 2014 for The London Magazine