Review – Hatches, Matches and Dispatches

Aug 4 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩  Convincing comic revival

Mayfield Salisbury Church (Venue 11): 3-24 August 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Edinburgh People’s Theatre are celebrating an astonishing 56th year on the Fringe with this revival of Alan Cochrane’s Hatches, Matches and Dispatches, a Fringe First winner in 1998.

Whether this is intended as a tribute to its writer, a stalwart of the company who died at the end of 2012, or purely a coincidence – the play is a sequel to Ne’er The Twain, the company’s offering at last year’s Fringe – it is entirely appropriate.

A scene from EPT’s Hatches Matches and Despatches. Photo: Graham Bell

Publicity would suggest that the play is a couthie, nostalgic, knockabout comedy based on the enforced union of Leith and Edinburgh. While this is partly true, there are other undertones here; this is a far more sophisticated drama, whose injection of non-realistic elements places it within that tradition of peculiarly Caledonian magic realism, which is derived from Scottish theatre’s long tradition of absorbing elements of variety and even pantomime.

This is thrown into sharp relief by the set, a spot-on evocation of a Leith tenement room instantly recognisable even to those of us whose memories fail to reach back to the 1920s setting. This attention to detail is mirrored in Joan Hunter’s direction – it is surely no coincidence that so many of the cast are able to communicate so much by non-verbal means, something which suggests that this production will become even stronger as the run goes on.

Like their home towns, the McIvor family from Leith and the Burns family from Edinburgh are about to be brought together by the marriage of their children, Carol McIvor and Robin Burns. First, however, the McIvor house must be prepared for the wake for Carol’s favourite auntie, Nellie.

Considerable comic energy and pathos

Mandy Black (Jean McIvor) and Ronnie Millar (Bob McIvor) both make instant impressions simply by the looks they give their daughter Carol on their respective first appearances. Black continues to show an enviable ability to convey through a simple glance that combination of frustration, contempt and unconditional acceptance only afforded to the closest family members. Millar, meanwhile, displays great awareness of how the smallest gesture or shift in emphasis can create comic effect.

Erin Kelly as Carol is effectively winsome whilst constantly hinting at a layer of steel beneath. Kyle Sutherland, playing her fiance Robin, is suitably glaikit and shows signs of an aptitude for physical comedy, particularly when acting drunk, but at the moment is underplaying too much. Iain Fraser (Wullie) invests the role of an ageing Jack-the-lad with considerable comic energy and pathos.

Gordon Braidwood (Hugh Burns) is poised and elegant in a role which is a trifle underwritten, being essentially a foil for others, while Irene Beaver (Meg Burns) is pitch-perfect as a woman whose attempts to appear douce are frustrated as much by her own nature as by those around her. This part could be played as a stereotype but in her hands is much more subtle.

This could be said of the entire play; characters who appear as stock figures in the first act are refined and opened up in the second. Christine Dall (Teenie), whose role is pivotal in the second half, shows the appropriate mixture of spite and humour; she is not yet comfortable in the role but this will also surely develop.

Sally North (Mrs Bell) epitomises the shift between acts. She goes from displaying superb comic timing and mining the smallest gesture for laughs to effectively evoking the audience’s sympathy. Lyzzie Dell (Nellie) delivers perhaps the most convincing performance, dominating the stage even when silent or apparently unseen by the other actors; her reactions, however, are always in support of the other performers.

The performance is probably least effective when trying too hard for laughs, and most satisfying when letting the humour arise naturally out of convincing relationships. At times the cast achieve a natural comic rhythm, but at others they are still obviously finding their feet. There are still some glitches to be ironed out, but this is a satisfying production which can only improve.

Running time 2 hrs 5 mins
3-24 August: Tue-Fri 7.45pm; Sat 2.30pm.
Mayfield Salisbury Church, 1a Mayfield Road, EH9 2NG (Venue 11)
Tickets from: /

EPT's Hatches Matches and Despatches. Photo © Graham Bell

EPT’s Hatches Matches and Despatches. Photo © Graham Bell


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Comments (1)

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  1. Mr Simpson,
    Thank you so much for the lovely crit of “Hatches, Matches and Dispatches”. This was my husbands last play and I was grateful that you appreciated the underlying ideas.
    Good luck for the rest of the Festival
    Maureen Cochrane