Paras over the Barras

August 13, 2014 | By | Reply More

✭✭✩✩✩    Sketchy comedy

St Serf’s Hall (Venue 83)
Mon 4 – Sat 16 August 2014

Delivering the toe-curling one-liners with a relatively straight face, Leitheatre’s reprise of Paras over the Barras is sketch show comedy shot through with nostalgia for the WW2 spirit.

The ensemble take shelter. Photo: Marion Donohoe

The ensemble take shelter. Photo: Marion Donohoe

This is home-front territory, Glasgow style, with Wullie McSorley and his sister Annie holding the line in the face of ration books lost in bombing raids, overzealous air raid wardens and the death of old Mr McLatchie next door.

There are strands of plot – concerning the engagement party for Annie’s daughter Rita for which the now lost ration coupons were being saved and old man McLatchie’s journey to and from the undertakers. But for the most part these exist to justify the sketches – which could hold their own on many a Sunday night comedy show.

The central roles in the 13-strong cast are well cast. Billy Renfrew is solid as Wullie, cynical to the point of rudeness, always one for the tall story and, despite his attitude, ready to defend his sister and niece if needed. Particularly from the wandering hands of Air Raid Warden, Erchie.

Fiona Robertson has her accent down perfectly as Annie and her lines and putdowns carry the natural weight they should. Although she does not have the pace she might, itself a problem for the whole play, she conveys the reality of a woman whose husband is away fighting, and the fear that a simple knock on the door can hold.

strong sense of community

There is more room for Megan Travers to stretch her comedy wings as Rita. She has particularly memorable scenes at the Barras, where she gives Mark O’Neill’s predatory American soldier a firm KB as she waits for her boyfriend Rasputin, and at work as a clippie taking fares on the tram.

The dead neighbour is notable for being the butt of Wullie’s wrath because of the length of time he takes at the communal toilet, and for the case of mistaken identity when the box is brought to take him away.

It is his daughter, Ina, who provides the fun. Phyllis Rose plays the neighbour archetype up to the hilt, maybe over plays it, but she also does enough to make you believe that Ina is holding a torch for the unresponsive Wullie.

The strength of Don Arnott’s direction of this production lies in the company’s understanding of the humanity of the situations and its strong sense of community. The weakness lies in its pace. A more urgent sense of drive would have helped skip over the repetitions and obvious  jokes in James Barclay’s script.

Barclay makes much of use of the mistaken word gag and its basic structure is repeated so much that after a while it begins to feel as if you have heard the jokes before. Which might, indeed, by true given how old and hoary they generally are.

There are plenty of laughs to be had – Clem Allan puts in an excellent shift as black-marketer Fingers McGeachie as does Colin Stirling-Whyte as the undertaker, Hector, and Irene Cuthbert as Ina’s talkative, advice-dispensing hairdresser, Madame Wee Nellie.

Derek Blackwood’s set is more than functional and the use of period popular music from the 1940s helps rack up the nostalgia. An entertaining evening which, if it stumbles occasionally, knows where its humanity is.

Running time 2 hrs 5 mins including one interval
St Serf’s hall, 1a Clark Road, Goldenacre, EH5 3BD (Venue 83)
Mon 4 – Sat 16 Aug, 2014.
Daily: 19.30 (also 14.30 Sat 9; 14.30 only Sat 16).
Ticket details: edfringe.com/whats-on/paras-over-the-barras
Leitheatre Website: www.leitheatre.com

ENDS

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