Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Loud, hugely enjoyable and instantly recognisable to Scottish audiences from the DC Thomson comic, The Broons is every bit as much fun as you would hope.
‘Scotland’s Happy Family That Makes Everybody Happy’ – that’s Maw, Paw, their eight children and Granpaw – have of course been featuring in The Sunday Post for 80 years now. Little crucial about them has changed, largely because they represented a nostalgic, artificial Scotland from the start.
If some say they are not what they were (and how could a giant like Dudley D. Watkins ever be adequately replaced?) they retain a unique place in Scottish culture. Their first-ever stage outing, in Sell A Door Theatre’s touring production, is written by Rob Drummond and directed by Andrew Panton, who have done a commendable job in creating a theatrical experience that is true to its source material.
There is more than a touch of old-fashioned variety, with an almost overpowering brashness and the inclusion of some venerable jokes (as well as some good newer ones). A tendency to burst into a well-known and apparently random song at regular intervals also betrays the show’s roots.
There is also nothing understated about Becky Minto’s comic-bedecked set, with huge red furniture spelling ‘BROONS.’ It is all done in such good spirit that it would be curmudgeonly indeed to object to it too strongly. What is notable is how much of the flavour of the original comic strips comes through. There are storylines that will instantly be familiar to aficionados – partly because they tend to reappear regularly – and the trappings of modern society, such as dating apps, are used in much the same way as they are in the original; that is to say, without really ever appearing modern at all.
The overarching plot – that Maggie is getting married, and will be leaving Glebe Street – is one that is also familiar. Maggie’s supposed wedding to Dave, referenced here, was a long-running storyline in the 1970s. It was eventually and quietly dropped, presumably because the ramifications of it were just too great.
Those consequences are explored here in a production that gets dangerously meta at times, with Granpaw stating his age ‘varies’, the Bairn wishing she will never get older, and Hen protesting ‘I am not a two-dimensional character’. This adds to the fun and is not overdone, and if the resolution does skirt close to agony column psychobabble, it is satisfyingly inevitable.
Such concern with dramatic form comes as no surprise considering Drummond’s past work. The overt sentimentality on display here has been only hinted at before, but the use of the Broons to symbolise all human interaction is successful enough, even if it is somewhat hammered home.
Clever casting and accomplished performances make the characters closer to their drawn equivalents than would have seemed possible. Kern Falconer and Paul Riley are hidden behind luxuriant facial hair as Granpaw and Paw, but still manage to be recognisably human; Riley is an old hand at engaging the audience, while Falconer’s spiky, twinkly characterisation is very effective.
a huge, big-hearted performance
Joyce Falconer’s Maw is more strident than many would imagine, but it is a huge, big-hearted performance. Kim Allan (Maggie) and John Kielty (Joe) are as close to the originals as you could wish, with Tyler Collins a pliable and lanky Hen and Laura Szalecki a thoroughly sympathetic Daphne.
The Broons set off to the But an’ Ben. Photo Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
Maureen Carr’s decidedly over-age Bairn takes some getting used to, while Duncan Brown and Kevin Lennon’s screechy-voiced Twins are closer to Reeves and Mortimer’s Stott brothers, but – like the extremely funny Euan Bennet’s Horace – they put real gusto into the younger family members.
Not only do the cast fill in all of the other necessary roles, they also provide the backing for the musical numbers. Time spent touring has made these noticeably tight, and there is a real ensemble feel to proceedings, not least in the adroit physical comedy.
Familiarity with The Broons – and Watkins’s other creations such as Desperate Dan and that boy with the bucket – will add to the fun, but even if you last saw them in an annual in a dentist’s waiting room in 1992, you will still find this funny. If you have never heard of the family, you might be baffled – but who in Scotland could possibly be in such a position?
The second half does threaten to outstay its welcome, particularly when the closing musical medley keeps us all up long past the Bairn’s bedtime, but there is so much here to enjoy. Anyone who has ever derived pleasure from a Broons book should get similar pleasure here.
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 November 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinee Wed and Sat 19: 2.30pm.
Details and tickets from: http://www.edtheatres.com/broons