Aug 25 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Informative

Panmure House (Venue 305): Fri 5 – Sun 28 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Carnegie, a biographical piece set in the historic building of Panmure House, provides much elucidation.

John Yule’s one-hander, performed by Ian Sexon, tells the story of Andrew Carnegie, the Fifer of modest means whose move to the USA ended up with his steel empire making him the richest man in the world. The subsequent disposal of his fortune led to (among many other institutions) the Peace Palace in The Hague and the Carnegie Hall.

Ian Sexon as Andrew Carnegie. Pic Paul Watt Photography.

This is a largely conventional biographical account, framed as Carnegie’s reminiscences during a Highland fishing trip on hearing of the outbreak of the First World War. It is certainly informative, with an intensely wordy script. The desire to convey as many facts as possible in the time available does make it somewhat breathless.

It is an engaging performance by Sexon, building up a rapport with the audience and reflecting the dual Scottish and American backgrounds vocally. Panmure House (the former residence of Adam Smith in the Canongate) is one of those places you cannot imagine staging theatre outside Fringe time, and it struggles to convince as a Highland riverbank.

Director Andy Corelli does make good use of the space, and a valiant attempt is made to vary the pace while still squeezing this into the traditional hour-long Fringe spot.

a far from sanitised figure

Although sympathetic to Carnegie, the play presents a far from sanitised figure. His anti-war campaigning is portrayed as naive, while his undoubted philanthropy is leavened by the knowledge that his fortune was amassed with the help of insider dealing, the suppression of workers’ rights and the accruing of profits so vast he was afraid to disclose their true nature for fear of outcry.

This is illustrated by a lengthy section showing the Homestead Massacre of 1892, where a strike led to pitched battles. Carnegie’s protestations that he could have prevented the bloodshed if he had been there is shown in an equivocal manner that is effective. What works less well is the theatrical presentation of the scene, which does not quite convince.

This is an engaging production, although the desire to be so educational does make it feel overstuffed. It ends up being more of a history lesson (albeit one of an extremely attractive nature) rather than an entirely convincing theatrical experience.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Panmure House (The Lecture Room) Lochend Close, EH8 8BL (Venue 305),
Friday 5 – Sunday 28 August 2022 (not Mondays)
Daily (not Mondays) 16:00; Sat mats: 12:00.
Information and tickets: Book here.

Venue website:
Twitter: @AdamSmithHouse
Facebook: @AdamSmithPanmureHouse
Instagram: @adamsmithhouse

Ian Sexon as Andrew Carnegie. Pic Paul Watt Photography.


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