A Split Decision

Aug 8 2014 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩    Lacking conviction

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) Wed 30 July – Sun 24 Aug 2014

Some satirical humour can be found in Keir McAllister’s referendum comedy A Split Decision in Studio Two at the Assembly Rooms, but overall it must be counted as a missed opportunity.


Gareth Waugh, Paul Sneddon and Jojo Sutherland. Photo: Keir Mcallister

Gareth Waugh, Paul Sneddon and Jojo Sutherland. Photo: Keir McAllister

There is a great deal of promise in the situation. A couple representing Scotland and the UK undergo a form of marriage counselling. The play is written in verse and has its fair share of pithy observation and funny lines.

It is a shame, therefore, that it is not more effective. The use of performers more recognised as stand-up comedians should have given a real energy and punch to the proceedings. Instead, perhaps wary of overplaying, the production seems to go too much in the other direction.

This is particularly obvious in the way the rhyming dialogue is treated. David Greig’s Prudencia Hart would have been a useful model here – when you have a script featuring some deliberate forced rhymes which are intended to have a comic effect, you cannot skate over them. Too often here the dialogue is treated as if it was prose, trying to hide the rhymes rather than glorying in them.

Gareth Waugh’s counsellor suffers the most in this regard. It is actually a very interesting, self-effacing performance, but it does not quite fit in here. Paul Sneddon, probably best known as Vladimir McTavish, is a more than able performer, but here also seems reluctant to go at full throttle as the Scottish husband. The part is not exactly a carefully drawn, non-stereotypical view of Scotland, and needs a good deal more gusto.

a terrifying concatenation of Margaret Thatcher and Peggy Mount

Jojo Sutherland, who plays the wife as a terrifying concatenation of Margaret Thatcher and Peggy Mount, is the most successful performer simply because she goes in with all guns blazing. She is then able to add light and shade later on, and seems to have the most relish for the material.

However, the depiction of the part as so recognisably English hints at some problems. What could be about the break-up of the UK is here reduced to a dysfunctional relationship between a bullying England and a Scotland with a victim complex. This may not chime with the experience of everyone, particularly any audience members from Wales or Northern Ireland. Once again, it would have been forgivable to take such a simplified view had the whole thing been more exaggerated.

The symbols used in the script probably need a little more thought. Saying England needs Scotland to drive her in his car, even though the fuel may not last forever, is forced enough, but then the revelation that she ‘likes his whisky and shortbread’ is more than a little lame.

The insistence that they were never in love, but were introduced by ‘James’ is also puzzling. Presumably this is a reference to James VI, but that would mean the Union of Crowns not Parliaments, which was 100 years earlier and is (apparently) not up for consideration in the forthcoming referendum. Overall, the script appears to be an idea stretched beyond its optimum length.

There is the germ of a much funnier show here. Gowan Calder’s direction is always more than serviceable, the script has enough potential, and the actors are demonstrably capable of more. As it stands, though, this is something of a misfire.

Running time 1 hour
The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20), 54 George Street, EH2 2LR
Wed 30 Jul – Sun 24 Aug 2014 (not Thurs 31 Jul, Mon 11 Aug)
Daily at 1.30 pm
Tickets from: tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/split-decision


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