Apr 13 2023 | By More

★★★★★    Rattling adventure

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Tue 11 – Sat 22 April 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Isobel McArthur has excelled herself in her latest adaptation of a classic story to the stage, this time giving Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped a music-filled, comic and heartfelt makeover.

Where her Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) recreated Jane Austen’s novel from the point of view of the female servants, here she uses a similar idea to use RLS’s wife, Frances, as the guiding light to his classic adventure-filled yarn.

And boy, or rather “man”, does it work well in this inventive National Theatre of Scotland production, which is at the Lyceum until Saturday 22 April. Although, by rights, it should be selling out the theatre long into the future. And winning every award going.

Kim Ismay as Frances Stevenson with Christina Gordon, Danielle Jam and Karen Young in Kidnapped. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic.

The benefit of taking Frances’s point of view is that she was the very opposite of the usual Edinburgh-born Victorian wife. An American divorcee who had already had to fend for herself and her three children as she followed her philandering first husband round America, she added experience to RLS’s storytelling abilities.

Besides playing puppeteer to Ryan J Mackay’s naive young Davie Balfour, a young lad who thinks he is a man and wants a sense of purpose in his life, Kim Ismay’s hard-as-nails Frances equates Davie’s story and relationship to Malcolm Cumming’s swashbuckling Jacobite Alan Breck Stewart to her own relationship with RLS.

rattling adventure yarn

It is to to the credit of McArthur, who also co-directs with dramaturg Gareth Nicholls, that while the conceit is lightly played, it is both consistent over the whole production and works perfectly, allowing her to play this as both a gay love story and a rattling adventure yarn.

This time out, Michael John McCarthy is elevated to the role of co-writer as well as that of composer and musical supervisor. Music is at the heart of the show, with every member of the ten-strong cast playing an instrument or adding their voice to the re-arranged versions of popular music.

Fatima Jawara, Christina Gordon, Ryan J Mackay, Danielle Jam, Karen Young and David Rankine in Kidnapped. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic.

And what a hard-working company it is too, creating all the peripheral characters who carry the plot as the recently orphaned Davie leaves his Borders home, bound for Cramond, but is kidnapped on a rotten ship which sets off for America but founders on the West Coast of Scotland…

They all deserve a mention: Christina Gordon, Danielle Jam and Karen Young provide everything from house band, kept right by performing musical director Isaac Savage, to a band of brigands. Grant O’Rourke brings presence and comic timing to many key characters, David Rankine excels in physical comedy and Fatima Jawara gives Davie’s uncle villainy is plain for all but Davie to see.

swing along at pace

Add in brilliantly conceived set and costumes by Anna Orton and the whole thing is able to swing along at pace, playing out the story with a sort of open plan approach. It lays bare all the various elements which go to build up the yarn, while adding explainers – into 18th century Scottish politics and more.

Such mini-detours are occasionally subtle, but more often not so. They are always hilarious, however, adding to the plot, and building depth to the characters.

Fatima Jawara, Danielle Jam, Isaac Savage, Christina Gordon and David Rankine in Kidnapped. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic.

If the main points of RLS’s novel are here, McCarthy is not afraid to adhere to the spirit rather than to the exact niceties of the original. They might not be proper, but by adding modern embellishments she makes it a more satisfying piece for the modern audience.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Cumming provides a puckish, Peter Pan-like air to Alan Breck, which ensures the romanticism of the Jacobite cause, while Ryan J MacKay’s steadfast Davie grows visibly over the piece, achieving a maturity you would not have thought possible in the opening scenes.

This is a Kidnapped for our times. Here lies escapist adventure, romance, plenty of great songs, and scurrilous comedy. All framed with a reappraisal of a historical figure who lies at the edges of one of Scotland’s great writers.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes.
Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX.
Tue 11 – Sat 22 April 2023
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm; Mats Weds & Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Ryan J Mackay and Malcolm Cumming in Kidnapped. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic.


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