WILLIE AND SEBASTIAN – Edinburgh Fringe

In Edinburgh Festival, Festivals, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

✭✭✭✭✩   Immoral compass

Gilded Balloon (Venue 14): Wed 5 – Mon 31 Aug 2015
Foul-mouthed and funny, Willie and Sebastian is far removed from what might be expected of the established double act of Andy Gray and Grant Stott. Nevertheless it provides an entertaining hour, with Gray in particular close to his very best.

Ian Pattison’s new play is based on the true story of two ill-fated inhabitants of the old Soho demi-monde, theatrical producer and writer William Donaldson (Gray) and artist Sebastian Horsley (Stott).

Grant Stott and Andy Gray. Photo: Steve Ullathorne

The first thing that must be noted is that this is far from the cuddly tale one might expect from the two pantomime mainstays – the scenes of drug-taking, descriptions of sexual practices and unbridled swearing on display would not quite cut it at the King’s.

It is a reminder that Pattison’s best-known creation, Rab C. Nesbitt, was an altogether darker character before sitcom smoothed off some of his rough edges. The swearing in particular seems to be manna from heaven to Gray, who turns in an altogether more louche version of his usual audience-connecting self, delivering a masterclass in timing and gesture, thoroughly revolting yet strangely sympathetic.

Stott cuts a bizarre figure as Horsley, looking like the lovechild of The Gentleman from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Little Lord Fauntleroy. He struggles to give the part the necessary devilish hauteur, but the evident connection between him and Gray gives their exchanges real energy and a surprising pathos.

pacy direction

Rather than telling the two men’s downwardly-mobile life stories, it opts for a snapshot from near their ends, with Horsley moving in on Donaldson’s model girlfriend Rachel (Michele Gallagher). Gallagher has a difficult job intruding into the double act, but does so with a cynical energy that is very successful, helped by Sam Kane’s pacy direction.

The script does not provide any great examination of the decline of artistic talent or lives cut short by drugs, but does have poignant moments dealing with memory, loss and futility. Indeed, many of the one-liners are deeply bleak and cynical. The play is not as laugh-out-loud funny as might have been anticipated, but hangs together as a dramatic work far better than many such star showcases do.

In the end, it is Gray’s Willie that dominates, but without ever overbalancing a production that also demonstrates great teamwork.

Running time 1 hour
Gilded Balloon (Venue 14) Teviot Row House, EH8 9AJ
Wednesday 5 – Monday 31 August 2015
Daily (not Mon 17) at 8.15 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/willie-and-sebastian

ENDS

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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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