Brodie is hanging around

Mar 19 2019 | By More

Notorious villain in musicals make-over

A musical about Deacon Brodie the notorious 18th century Edinburgh town councillor and locksmith who turned thief by night, is to get a second revival this week in Portobello.

Brodie! The Musical was first staged by the St Philip’s Drama Group in 1996 and tells of both Brodie’s criminal activities and his personal life as an unmarried man who kept two families by different mistresses – neither of whom knew of the other.

Brodie and his mistresses – a publicity shot for the 1996 production.

The musical was revived in 2006 and is now being staged in a slightly modified and updated version by the 40-strong Portobello and Joppa Parish Church Drama Group – as the St Philip’s Drama Group is now called – in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

Without ever being too sordid, the show tells the full details of Brodie’s colourful life in a manner which is suitable for family viewing.

The script was written by Gavin Booth, whose parents founded the group in 1969. He and the group’s musical director, Nancy Kent, who wrote the music, decided to write a musical specifically for the company with a theme to suit its own identity and the number of cast members to fit the company.

“It was a big group and we wanted to ensure that everyone felt they were part of it,” says Booth. “We liked the idea of a Scottish – ideally Edinburgh – theme and the story of Deacon Brodie seemed ideal.”

everyone should have fun

“Gavin and I wrote the show with the idea that there would be lots of parts and lots for the chorus to do,” adds Nancy Kent. “The main aim though was that everyone should have fun, and I think we are achieving that!”

Brodie (Willie French) and his eldest daughter in the 2006 production.

While Brodie’s ultimate demise at the scaffold might indicate a vicious villain, in fact the Deacon and his small gang of ineffectual petty criminals were not violent.

The Town Council of the time was pretty corrupt, as well. Their idea of a good decision was one which lined their own pockets and kept them in a job. Which has given Booth plenty of priggish historical characters to poke fun at.

It is not just a case of dusting off the old scripts for the new production, however, as he explains.

“Each time we have refined it, looking at what has worked and what possibly hasn’t. This 50th anniversary production finds the Old Town residents using more Scottish words and expressions, for instance.”

fast-moving and slick

He says that the show’s directors, Shona Cowie and Charlotte Anderson, have come up with a really fast-moving and slick production.”

The Ladies of the New Town in the 2006 production.

Shona Cowie, who describes herself as the show’s midwife, having directed all of its various incarnations, says: “This time, Gavin has made significant alterations to the script and it has a fresh, modern style.

“With changes in the staging, and the technologies now available, it almost feels like a new show.

“It is ideally suited to our large and diverse group, this show gives lots of people the chance to play a principal part. It has been a joy to watch new members marvel at Nancy’s wonderful music and to laugh and smile at Gavin’s script, and also to have so many people in the cast who are delighted to be in Brodie! once again.”

“It’s great fun to have a sing and dance to the old tunes,” agrees Charlotte Anderson. “But we were keen to make sure that this wasn’t just a recreation of past productions, and to stage the story slightly differently.”


While the cast has changed and its members have grown since the first production, some are reviving previous roles and others are taking on new ones, which Anderson says demonstrates how having a show written specifically for it can benefit a local amateur company.

The Male Ensemble rehearse the tavern scenes for the 2019 production.

“We are passionate about this show for many reasons,” she says, “but it’s a real treat to be able to work on a show with a story and history so close to home – or even to leave rehearsals and then walk home through the closes and streets you’ve just been singing about.

“The best thing is of course that we don’t have to put on any dodgy accents!”

Sheila Hay, Gavin Booth’s sister, remembers that the company started by their parents in 1969 was a small but very keen group of would-be actors who took on a play called The Other Cinderella.

“In the early years, all our productions were plays,” she says. “But as the group grew in number, we moved to musicals, the first being Free as Air by Julian Slade.”

Since then, the company has performed shows such as Carousel, Show Boat, Anything Goes and Hot Mikado, and the become the family company it is today.

As Sheila Hay says: “Little did that happy band of players back in 1969 dream that 50 years on the group would be thriving and still thoroughly enjoying their shared love of theatre!”


Brodie! The Musical
Portobello and Joppa Parish Church, Abercorn Terrace, Portobello, EH15 2DH
Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 March 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets £12 from

Brodie’s gang in the 1996 production


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