The Sorcerer’s Tale

Aug 8 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩ Good alchemy

Mayfield Salisbury Church (Venue 11) Sat 2 – Sat 23 Aug 2014

Pawky, earthy and of consistent quality, Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s revival of The Sorcerer’s Tale is the ideal show for anyone wanting to see something very Scottish and very funny.

Kyle Sutherland,  John Somerville and Iain Fraser. Photo Robert Fuller

Kyle Sutherland, John Somerville and Iain Fraser. Photo Robert Fuller

James Scotland’s farce, the first in a series featuring the monks of Cambusdonald Abbey in the 1460s, was originally premiered by EPT at the fringe in 1968, but this is the first time they have revived it in nearly 30 years.

The play avoids any questions of historical accuracy by presenting an entirely fantastic past where magic is possible, expressed in a sophisticated Scots which has a gruffly demotic poetry and plays to the strengths of the performers.

Expecting a visit from a potential benefactor, the monks need to provide an impressive show. Will alchemy provide the answer? Unfortunately, things do not go to plan, and the arrival of a monastery inspector complicates matters.

There is an almost sitcom feel to the set-up. We have a group of people trapped in a situation they would not have wished (the central trio are somewhat reluctant monks) around whom other characters and plots revolve.

Iain Fraser, as Brother Barnabus the alchemist, runs through a wide array of facial expressions as he plays to the gallery without ever overdoing it. John Somerville’s ‘past it’ Brother Donatus, the illustrator of illuminated manuscripts who has only mastered one letter, is a much more reserved but equally funny performance, with his hangdog lugubriousness a joy to behold.

Kyle Sutherland, as the younger Brother Simon who does not seem to have appreciated quite what celibacy entails, has the enviable ability of getting laughs by doing very little. Between these three there is no shortage of verbal and physical humour, with some split-second timing.

energy and playfulness

John Lyon’s Abbot Martin and Gordon Braidwood’s monastery inspector Marcus are required to play the straight men much of the time, which they do with dignity and aplomb. Lynn Cameron’s angry Jenny (Brother Simon’s sometime girlfriend) and Lyzzie Dell, as potential benefactor Lady Michie, provide energy and playfulness.

Anne Mackenzie, Mandy Black and Lynn Cameron. Photo Robert Fuller

Anne Mackenzie, Mandy Black and Lynn Cameron. Photo Robert Fuller

The identities of the other characters are kept obscure in the programme, being detailed simply as ‘A Man’ or ‘Another Woman’, and it would spoil much of the unfolding humour to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Colin Wallace is suitably angry and Anne Mackenzie’s sly coquettishness is very effective. Mandy Black, meanwhile, has a rare old time in a completely over-the-top, flirtatious role that provides some huge laughs.

Director Irene Beaver provides a pleasing pace and energy to the piece. It relies more on Scottish variety than it does on the ‘whoops vicar’ style of farce, but there are also some highly effective set pieces. The set and props are impressive, while the lighting by Steve Roberts and Peter Horsfall’s sound design are allied to some quietly impressive special effects.

This play will teach you precisely nothing about 15th century Scottish history. However, it will put you in touch with more recent, extremely valuable Scottish cultural traditions. It represents something that is thoroughly undervalued on the Fringe and deserves great success.

Running time 2 hours 5 minutes including interval
Mayfield Salisbury Church, 18 West Mayfield, EH9 1TQ (Venue 11)
Sat 2 – Sat 23 Aug 2014 (not Sun or Mon)
Tues –Fri at 19.45, Sat 9, 16 at 14.30; Sat 23 at 15.00
Tickets from
Company website:


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