Alba – A New Scottish Musical

Aug 16 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩ Curate’s egg

The Space @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 241)
Mon 11 – Sat 23 Aug 2014

Tuneful, well staged and well performed, Finn Anderson Productions’ Alba – A New Scottish Musical has a great deal going for it, but also manages to lose its way before the end of its journey.

Lawrence Boothman, Andrew Barrett and Rosemary Stanford. Photo: Alba

Lawrence Boothman, Andrew Barrett and Rosemary Stanford. Photo: Alba

Expat Roddy has to return to Scotland to scatter his father’s ashes over the Reekie Linn in Glen Isla; of course, this would be at New Year, just before the interview for the high-flying City finance job he has always craved. But will the pull of his homeland, plus the meeting with a mysterious, fancy-free young woman, change his attitude?

The staging and performance are extremely impressive. For most of the running time, Fin Anderson’s script is lean and clever and his music is more than serviceable. The four performers provide the accompaniment themselves on a variety of folky instruments like accordion or fiddle. If this is sometimes a little rough and ready, this by no means diminishes its effect – however, the belief (curse of so many a pub session) that a bodhran is best played by attacking it with a stick as hard as you can, is clearly evident.

fluidity and rhythm

Andrew Barrett’s Roddy carries the narrative very well. He is not afraid of presenting an unattractive persona at first, which does wonders for the arc of the story. The other three performers – Lawrence Boothman, Carmella Brown and Rosemary Stanford – fill a variety of roles with grace and economy, being particularly strong at the comedic touches. Anderson and dramaturge Stephanie Smith use the space, actors and props very well, bringing a fluidity and rhythm to the performance.

However, forty minutes or so into a clever, graceful, economical show, it goes off the rails. Suddenly, there appears the perfect encapsulation of the difference between ‘local’ and ‘parochial’ art, delineated by William Carlos Williams and mentioned by Alasdair Gray in his recent Edinburgh Book Festival appearance. In a nutshell – all work originates somewhere, and good art will reflect its locality. Bad art, however, is ‘parochial’ as it is constantly looking beyond the place of its origins to some kind of imagined centre.

What happens here is that a confidently ‘local’ show suddenly careers headlong into parochialism. For most of the running time the rhymes are sharp, the acting crisp, and the music, while avoiding pastiche, is recognisably Scottish. Then, suddenly, the whole thing becomes about the referendum. Nothing wrong with that, of course, especially since the format of the show places it firmly in the tradition of politically-engaged Scottish plays with music – but it is all done in such a mealy-mouthed way, with syrupy tunes and ‘… make the change! Be all you can be!’ platitudes, that would be at home in the tritest self-help book.

Like so many shows which are ‘not really about the referendum’, it patently is, yet seems to lack the courage of its convictions, desperately straining for approval beyond Scotland, equally desperate not to cause offence – which is the opposite of the self-contained cultural confidence it should surely be showing.

This failure of nerve does not negate the fact that the majority of the show is strong. However, without a completely different last third it is difficult to imagine it surviving beyond September.

Running time 50 minutes
The Space@Surgeons Hall (Venue 53), Nicolson Street, EH8 9DW
Mon 11 – Sat 23 Aug 2014 (not Sun)
Daily at 1.10 pm
Tickets from:



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