The Auld Alliance

August 9, 2016 | By | 1 Reply More

✭✭✭✭✩    Entente Cordiale

Mayfield Salisbury Church (Venue 11) Aug 5-20 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Warmly funny and showing an unusual level of thought and care, The Auld Alliance from Edinburgh People’s Theatre is a multi-faceted production where the good hugely outweighs the bad.

There is a decidedly French feel to Alan Richardson’s Scottish comedy – EPT’s 59th Fringe offering. This comes not just from the title or plot, but also from liberal borrowings of characters and situations from French comedies.

Stewart O’Neill; Peter Morrison; Iain Fraser; Sally North; Alix Spinks – photo by Terry Railley

Stewart O’Neill; Peter Morrison; Iain Fraser; Sally North; Alix Spinks – photo by Terry Railley

The play is set at the end of the Napoleonic wars in rural North-East Fife, where retired merchant Angus Fulton rules the roost at an isolated farmhouse. The longings of his daughters for a more exciting life are complicated by the wreck of a French ship and the events that follow.

What is perhaps most noticeable is how even innocent jokes can take on new meanings in a shifting political climate. Behind the couthy comedy lurks something quite modern and cynical, emphasised in a production that is much more than the sum of its parts.

There is something very real about all of this, however ridiculous the events on stage may be. This is helped greatly by John Somerville’s sensitive direction. Proceedings have a fluid feel, with everything seeming to flow organically. Moments of comparative action emerge naturally from the character-led stretches, some potentially awkward exposition is well handled, and large numbers of cast members on stage seem like natural gatherings instead of the stiff tableaux they could easily be.

real world

This feeling of a real world is crystallised by the portrayal of Tinker Jennie, who seems to be mainly intended as comic relief. In the hands of Irene Beaver, she becomes a rounded character of considerable dignity and individuality without sacrificing any humour.

Alix Spinks; Sally North; Kathryn Clark; Stewart O’Neill; John Lyon - Photo by Ian Mcnaught

Alix Spinks; Sally North; Kathryn Clark; Stewart O’Neill; John Lyon – Photo by Ian Mcnaught

As the Fultons’ daughters, Alix Spinks and Emma Archibald similarly create recognisable people with faults, rather than the insipid figures that could easily result. Spinks in particular is very good as the independent-minded Jane.

Stewart O’Neill handles the tricky role of Philippe the shipwrecked sailor with grace and style, while Peter Morrison keeps the young lieutenant David Chalmers well within the realms of believability.

Elspeth, the maid who has more to say for herself than is comfortable for her employers, reinforces the Gallic feeling by appearing to be a stock character drawn from French comic tradition. Once again, however, Kathryn Clark manages to make her appear a real person rather than a stereotype. This is also true of John Lyon’s George, who elevates the doctor-confidant into a living, breathing human being.

It would be possible to dwell on more prompting than is ideal, even early in a run. But it would also be boring, and ultimately irrelevant. What is important is how little this impinged on the world created on stage. The impressive Sally North (Sarah, the mother of the house) is particularly good at dealing with anything that arises while remaining entirely in character; thoroughly appropriate for one who, despite her foibles, is clearly the play’s moral centre.

a startled puddock

Not its actual centre, however. Everything that happens revolves around Angus Fulton, the miserly, domineering retired merchant. As his main function is trying to stop anyone else from doing anything, while simultaneously indulging his own greed, he should be dislikeable. However, Iain Fraser, playing him as a cross between W.C. Fields and a startled puddock, makes him compelling and not a little cuddly, while still retaining that cynicism.

There is an attention to detail that is epitomised by the sturdy set, that is beautifully decorated, including one simple yet hugely effective redress to emphasise a plot point. This careful, thoroughly human execution overcomes any mis-steps to make a warmly enjoyable production.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one 20 minute interval and one 5 minute interval
Mayfield Salisbury Church (Venue 11), 18 West Mayfield, EH9 1TQ
Friday 5 – Saturday 20 August 2016 (not Suns)
Mon – Fri at 7.45 pm; Sat: matinees only at 2.30 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/auld-alliance
Company website: https://www.ept.org.uk
Twitter: @EPeoplesTheatre
Facebook: EdinburghPeoplesTheatre

Kathryn Clark (Elspeth); Irene Beaver (Jennie); John Lyon (Dr Strachan); Emma Archibald (Mary); Stewart O’Neill (Phillipe); Peter Morrison (David); Iain Fraser (Angus); Sally North (Sarah); Alix Spinks (Jane) – Photo by Terry Railley

Kathryn Clark (Elspeth); Irene Beaver (Jennie); John Lyon (Dr Strachan); Emma Archibald (Mary); Stewart O’Neill (Phillipe); Peter Morrison (David); Iain Fraser (Angus); Sally North (Sarah); Alix Spinks (Jane) – Photo by Terry Railley

ENDS

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  1. Irene Beaver says:

    Thanks Hugh.

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