Cock O’ The North

August 12, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Fizzing

Saughtonhall United Reform Church: Mon 8 – Sat 13 Aug 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is a great evening to be had at Saughtonhall United Reform Church, where the drama company is staging a snappy and positively fizzing production of Cock O’ The North until Saturday 13.

Andrew P Wilson’s couthy Scots comedy was first staged in 1929 when social mores were as starched as the net curtains, dresses were hand made (and paid for in shillings) and bungalow housing a novelty. Yet there is no feeling of a museum piece here, just bright-as-ninepence comedy.

Judith Petrie in Cock O’ The North. Pic: Sarah Howley

The setting is the home of widower Willie Michie which is kept by his sister Janet and also home to his daughter Mary. It’s December 29 and the family are gearing up for the arrival of Willie’s old pal James Lennox and his son Archie, due to arrive on the 8pm train from Glasgow, as they do every year, to stay and see the New Year in.

Ishbel Shand is delight as Janet. Just on the right side of grumpy, she is the sister who has sacrificed her own prospects to look after her brother and niece. But all that is for later. For the moment, she is annoyed by the arrival of nosey neighbour Maggie.

And here the fun starts. Judith Petrie about into the role of Maggie with rapacious tongue, getting all the Scots vernacular out clear as anything and drawing the most satisfying laughs from the slightest of material. Her “aha” on hearing that Maggie is off to buy a new dress when Archie is due to arrive has a wealth of meanings. And the script draws them out beautifully.

lugubrious brilliance

The arrival of another neighbour Mattha Purdie, played with a lugubrious brilliance by Murray Petrie, signals a second layer of possible romance. Murray Petrie’s feartie lummox-ness is a joy to behold as the classic Scot who holds a flame but knows not how to show it.

When the Glasgow visitors arrive, the origin of the play’s title become obvious. It’s what James Lennox calls Willie. They are best pals and verbal sparing partners, prone to fall out over the smallest of things and each determinedly set in their own ways.

Charlotte MacDonald, and Ishbel Shand in Cock O’ The North. Pic: Sarah Howley

The scenes between John Webster’s aloof James, who has gone to the big town and made his way pay, and Scott Kerr’s careful, stay at home Willie, are particularly well staged by director Morag Simpson.

But to be honest, everything about the staging here is just about right in terms of pace, pitch and blocking. Simpson knows how to build the shouting match up – but never to a point where it couldn’t go further or from which it can’t back down. The Scots vernacular is clearly put and Keith Wilson’s set serves perfectly.

Charlotte MacDonald and Simon Petrie as the young lovers – a term which perhaps needs using advisedly – have the key roles in terms of the plot, even if they are not the most interesting ones. However, both roles demand an emotional depth that is an altogether different challenge than for their elders, and both discharge them with the necessary realism.

parsimonious

Much of the humour here lies in the old tropes of the Scottish personality – as parsimonious with the emotions as with money – and with the inability of one generation to understand the new ways of the next. In that way, the laughs have the same timeless source as the likes of Still Game.

That said, there are more historical elements of comedy here too, ones which the modern audience may not totally appreciate. However, the writing is clever enough for the company to ensure that, at whatever level the comedy lies, it is clear where the laugh lines are. And not by any kind of obvious signposting either.

A great piece of comic theatre that not only provides laughter but a chink of a view into times past. All played out with supreme confidence and naturalism by an amateur company at the top of its game.

Running time: Two hours and Five minutes (including a short pause and and interval)
Saughtonhall United Reform Church, 85 Saughtonhall Drive, EH12 5SA
Monday 9 – Saturday 13 August 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
Facebook: @saughtonhalldramagroup

Charlotte MacDonald, Ishbel Shand, John Webster and Judith Petrie in Cock O’ The North. Pic: Sarah Howley

ENDS

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