Aug 17 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆       Committed

Hill St Theatre (Venue 41): Fri 5 – Sun 28 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Independence, from Edinburgh Little Theatre at Hill Street, is a politically-charged piece that takes a few wrong turns but has huge reserves of dedication.

Back in 2013 and 2014, there were a whole raft of productions at the Fringe that insisted in their publicity (and sometimes during the performance) that they ‘weren’t really about the referendum’ when they clearly were.

The cast of Independence. Pic: Edinburgh Little Theatre

Such a mealy-mouthed approach did those plays few favours, but it is certainly not the case in Derek Douglas’s play. From the title alone, it is obvious what this is about.

It is also clear what side this is on, right from an opening scene set before the Act of Union where the dastardly lords silence the voice of the Scottish people. Not metaphorically, but literally, by actual murder.

The rest of the play is a more domestic affair, detailing the split loyalties of a family leading up to the referendum and in its aftermath. Once again, colours are firmly nailed to the mast, with the Yes voters portrayed as reasonable people who have ‘listened to the arguments on both sides’, while the father, the main representative of the No camp, is shown as frothingly intolerant.

This is hardly likely to win anyone over, but it stands firmly in the proud tradition of politically committed theatre and is all the better for it.

The portrayal of the central family is tinged with soap opera, but is largely convincing and performed with commitment. Writer-director Douglas has created a situation that may be formulaic, but is instantly recognisable.

considerable raging life

Greg Holstead gives the father considerable raging life. Liam Taylor’s Graham, who votes No for no better reason than his father tells him to, could be thoroughly annoying but is portrayed with considerable sympathy.

There is real believability to Wendy McEwan’s conflicted mother, while Roni Armstrong and Mairi Ridley shine as her daughters.

Armstrong, in particular, has real stage presence, and also provides an impressive interlude singing some of Parcel of Rogues.

This interlude is, however, symptomatic of the show’s odd structure. That peculiar opening historical scene with its odd faux-archaic dialogue, and the song, seem to suggest this will be a full-on Cheviot-style musical and historical tour; instead, it settles down into a domestic drama.

This is peppered, however, with Casey Raye’s narration, which strikes an odd note. A great deal of it is telling us things that anyone who would want to see this play would already know, and some of it consists of the reading out of lists that have to be done with a great deal less diffidence if they are to have impact.

The end of the play could also do with some rethinking, with a half-hearted ‘interactive’ element that either needs to be made more of and considerably clarified, or scrapped.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Hill Street Theatre (Alba Stage), 19 Hill Street, EH2 3JP (Venue 41)
Friday 5 – Sunday 28 August 2022
Daily: 18:30
Tickets and details: Book here.

Edinburgh Little Theatre website:
Facebook: @Edinburghlittletheatre
Twitter: @edlittletheatre


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