PPP: The Sheriff of Kalamaki

Oct 4 2023 | By More

★★★★☆    Impressive

Traverse: Tue 3 – Sat 7 Oct 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

This week’s A Play, a Pie and a Pint from Òran Mór at the Traverse, The Sheriff of Kalamaki by Douglas Maxwell (co-presented with Ayr Gaiety and Aberdeen Performing Arts) is another tale of mismatched siblings, this time played by the real-life McCole brothers.

Despite some structural infelicities, the play and the performances contain both humour and profundity.

Paul McCole. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Thirty-odd years after fetching up at the Greek island resort of Kalamaki on holiday and never leaving, Dion (formerly known as Derek) is just about getting by. He has lost neither his Glasgow accent nor his cheerful gallusness, and is heartened by becoming the local ‘Sheriff’.

This is a largely self-proclaimed (and possibly unpaid) role, that entails keeping an eye on over-exuberant tourists while intruding on the hospitality of bar and taverna owners wherever possible.

This precarious idyll is threatened, not just by a creeping self-awareness and the wildfires caused by the climate emergency, but by the arrival of his estranged brother Ally. The older brother is a suit-wearing, apparently straight-edged God-botherer who is bringing his own problems.

keen psychological insight

There is an almost desperate poetry to Maxwell’s words at times, allied to a keen psychological insight, which makes the characters and their shared background very real.

Having genuine brothers on stage helps immeasurably. Paul McCole provides a relentlessly upbeat but decidedly frazzled Dion, supplying an energy and a huge presence that is sympathetic yet simultaneously immensely troubling. The combination of humour and gnawing doubt is tremendously well done.

Stephen McCole and Paul McCole. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Stephen McCole’s Ally is a far more serious but equally human characterisation, portrayed with both gravitas and delicacy. In many ways his is the more troubled and more worrying character; in a week where a supposedly mainstream governing party is leaning further into conspiracy theories derived from white supremacists, there is a timeliness to the portrait of a man seduced by certainties. In his case, it is charismatic religion crossed with ‘mindfulness’ in a way that allows for no deviations from the ‘right’ path.

The skill of two the performers, and the chemistry between them, give a real impact to the examination of individual responsibility, the stories we tell about ourselves and what it really means to live a ‘good’ life.


Unfortunately, that impact is diminished by the play’s structure. It is essentially two separate monologues, with a minimum of interaction; the McColes are only on stage together for a very small proportion of the running time. This may be an accurate reflection of the characters’ personas and relationship, but in dramatic terms it is far from satisfactory.

Director Jemima Levick does still manage to create a sense of momentum throughout. Mark Gillespie’s sound and Ross Kirkland’s lighting help with the atmosphere, as does Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott’s design – a raised stage draped in a cloth that symbolises both sea and sky with an effective minimalism.

In the end, the efforts of the McColes, and the energy and intelligence of Maxwell’s script, overcome the unwieldy structure impressively.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 October 2023
Daily at 1.00 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Gaiety Theatre, Carrick St, Ayr KA7 1NU
Thursday 12 – Saturday 14 October 2023.
Two shows daily: 12 noon and 6pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Lemon Tree, 5 W N St, Aberdeen AB24 5AT
Tue 17 – Sat 21 October 2023
Tue – Fri: 6pm; Thurs, Sat: 1pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Paul McCole and Stephen McCole. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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