Donald Caskie is not a name many will know. Although judging by the audience that have made the trek to Hill Street Theatre, it is a name that resonates with some in Scotland. It certainly did for John Hughes and Graeme Dallas, the later recommending the story to the fomer having seen a newspapoer article about the man’s exploits. For Caskie was a minister in the Church of Scotland who risked his life during the second world war in order to help allied service personnel escape the clutches of the Nazis. So, few would argue that he is indeed a person worthy of the recognition of a well written play.
The bulk of The Tartan Pimpernel (the title coming from the nickname given to Caskie) takes place around a single table, as he is interrogated by both German and British intelligence, both believing him a spy for the other. Some smooth directing means that at times all three are on stage together, Caskie sat at the centre of the large wooden table, the German officer one side, British officer the other, Caskie flicking between the two different interrogations, at times the two overlapping in their questioning of him. It’s a clever way to show the mistrust that Caskie instilled as both German and British doubt him for differing reasons, believing him to be a spy for the other.
This does though create its own issues; with almost the whole play being the two interrogations and almost exclusively done seated at that one table, it can become a little repetitive with little to break the scene up. But for those with an interest in Caskie or who enjoy some fine writing, then this shouldn’t be an issue.
Graeme Dallas plays Caskie with a serenity and patience expected of a man of God. Around him, the two officers possess their roles so well they are almost parodies of them; Bobby Bulloch’s German officer feels like he could have come out of ‘Allo ‘Allo, whilst Will Speirs’ British officer is so stiff and with his regulation moustache that he could come from any 1950s war film.
The Tartan Pimpernel is clearly a work of passion for both writer and actor, and clearly one deserving of a platform. It may be one of the more traditionally presented plays seen at the Fringe this year, but for those interested in Scottish history, it is well worth checking out.
Written and directed by: John Hughes
Produced by: 3 Chinas Productions
Booking link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/tartan-pimpernel
Playing until: 11 August 2019