Making History by Stephen Fry

Aug 14 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      Lovingly assembled

St Ninian’s Hall (Venue 230): Mon 7 – Sat 19 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a great deal of attention lavished on Making History by Stephen Fry from Edinburgh Theatre Arts at St Ninian’s Hall. The result is an absorbing one.

This is an adaptation by ETA’s own Colin McPherson of the 1996 novel by the media all-rounder Fry. It tells the story of Michael Young (Ed DeRuiter), a history PhD student at Cambridge, who teams up with Leo Zuckermann (Danny Farrimond), an ageing physicist whose father was at Auschwitz, and a jar of prototype male contraceptives, in order to prevent the birth of Hitler.

Anyone with the most basic experiences of time-travel paradoxes will know that nothing can possibly go wrong…

Ed DeReuiter and Danny Farrimond. Pic: Colin McPherson

It is interesting how some works and some writers get pigeonholed as ‘merely’ science fiction, while others are welcomed into the world of Sunday-supplement reviews. David Mitchell and China Mieville, for example, have both produced wide-ranging works with comparable textures, yet Mitchell is ‘literary’ while Mieville is ‘genre’.

Presumably it is his profile that meant Fry’s book was regarded as mainstream (and he gets his name in the title of the stage version), even if the issues it brings up might be dealt with in a Ray Bradbury short story far more elegantly and at a fraction of the length.

considerable humour

It is a clever work, and has considerable humour, even if some find it tasteless. Certainly the version of the Final Solution in the alternative timeline breaks the boundaries of both taste and logic.

Luke Bazalgette and Ed DeReuiter. Pic: Colin McPherson

What is undeniable is the quality and craft of McPherson‘s adaptation. Clearly a labour of love, he has turned a sprawling book into a taut piece of theatre with considerable narrative drive.

Most impressive is the way he has handled a story that falls naturally into two halves. The second half is potentially the more interesting and richer in terms of subject matter, a fact that would have led a more indulgent and less ruthless adapter to come up with a lop-sided play, with all the difficulties a lengthy second act entails. Instead, the focus and attention is exceptionally impressive.

speed and panache

McPherson’s involvement extends to directing with speed and panache, as well as a wonderfully designed set, whose looming portraits of historical figures both great and terrible conceal a multitude of cupboards, gizmos and handy plot devices.

DeRuiter has to carry most of the show; he is on stage almost constantly, and is the only character who has any kind of lengthy involvement in both halves of the play. There is a naturalness and charm to him that are very effective.

Ed DeReuiter and Kerry Trewern. Pic Colin McPherson

Farrimond is splendid as Zuckermann. The depiction could easily lapse into stereotype but is nuanced and clever. Kerry Trewern, as Michael’s girlfriend Jane, and Luke Bazalgette, as all-American Steve, both have an easy plausibility.

Edith Peers and John McLinden both have authority in dual roles, while Ruaraidh Hastie’s raisin-scoffing spook has a nice line in misleading bonhomie. All of the roles, down to Sheila Thomson’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pancake server, contribute to a finely tuned ensemble.


Technically, this is praiseworthy, with the lighting of Ian Cunningham adding atmosphere. Farrimond’s sound design also impresses; the use of period-appropriate pop music, something that so often irritates in its obviousness, works here because of the obvious care with which it is done. Such care suffuses every aspect of this impressive production.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (including one interval)
St Ninian’s Hall, 40 Comely Bank, EH4 1AG (Venue 230)
Monday 7 – Saturday 19 August 2023 (not Sun 13)
Mon-Fri at 7.30 pm; Sat at 1.00 pm and 6.00 pm
Tickets and details Book here

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John McLinden and Ed DeReuiter. Pic Colin McPherson


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