Pros: Dry quips and pithy remarks from a talented cast that includes a superb Finlay Bain.
Cons: The thick Scottish accents were at times as strong and impenetrable as a frozen haggis.
I feel I should start this review with a confession. Watching The Flouers O’Edinburgh I understood about three quarters of what was said, and the other part was lost to me, an impenetrable mass of Scotch.
Language is at the hear of this play, set in the wake of the 1707 Acts of Union, in a Scotland under siege from pervasive English culture. There are two camps. One, the young reforming zealots, are convinced that the mores and culture of England will raise up the Scottish people. They see language as the primary vehicle for their Anglicisation project. The other camp are loyal Scotsmen, weary of English intrusions. They are proud speakers of Scotch, a fast-spoken language full of elisions and vowel elongations that to a Londoner like myself often sounded like gobbledygook, albeit with exquisite rhythm and tonal variation.
The chief protagonist of the play is Charles Gilchrist. Finlay Bain is superb as this unrelenting reformer born in Scotland but educated in London, who is hell bent on ‘improving’ his uncivilised countrymen. The priggish Gilchrist is also a comic character, and seeing his hubris being pricked and poked by the quick-witted inhabitants of Edinburgh is hilarious. He has his eyes on a career in Westminster, as well as the lovely and feisty Kate Mair (Leigh Lothian) who in turn has her eyes on the blunt, although oddly charming, Captain Simkin (Tom Durant-Pritchard); an English army officer stationed in Edinburgh, who is very ill-mannered. No doubt this is a reminder from the playwright that England has its far share of coarse men.
The play is as much a romantic farce as a comment on the manners and politics of early 18th Century Scotland. There are some wonderfully dry quips about high society in Edinburgh. Sir Charles Gilchrist senior, the father of the younger Gilchrist – who is without any of his son’s affectations – is a consistent source of pithy remarks. To take just one example, he proclaims that he must be the last man in Edinburgh acquainted with a pen that has not written a discourse on the nature of truth: a reference to Scotland’s burgeoning philosophical culture around 1700.
As is often the case with plays put on at the Finborough, this is excellent theatre. Perhaps the simmering political tensions and romantic farce feel a little ill-matched at times, but that’s a trifling fault. The play makes clear that in the three hundred years since the Acts of Union some things haven’t changed very much at all – the Scots are still very much Scottish, despite English efforts to the contrary.
Writer: Robert McLellan
Director: Jennifer Bakst
Box Office: 020 7244 7439
Booking Until: 27 September 2014
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2014/the-flouers-o-edinburgh.php