Aug 25 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Raw

Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41): Mon 21 – Sat 27 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Edinburgh Little Theatre’s Wallace is a conscious attempt to stir the blood by celebrating a figure from Scottish history.

William Wallace was, of course, one of the leaders in the war of independence at the end of the 13th century, defeating the English at Stirling Bridge before losing the Battle of Falkirk and later being captured. Most notoriously, he is the subject of a film by Mel Gibson whose relationship to historical truth could best be described as tangential.

Bobby Bulloch and Riley Stewart. Pic ELT

Derek Douglas’s play features Wallace (Bobby Bulloch) in prison in London the night before his execution, looking back on his life. While there is occasional interaction with other characters, the vast majority of the running time features Bulloch alone on stage.

It is a very creditable performance, with Bulloch holding the audience’s attention so well and for so long. The portrayal is full of pride, anger, anguish and sympathy, and maintained with real consistency. Paul Murray’s direction helps to add variety to the staging.

Douglas’s script makes good use of the facts of Wallace’s life where they are known, and of accepted tradition where they are not. There is no stinting on the gory details of battles (or of Wallace’s eventual end). While the linear nature of the journey through his story can become predictable and occasionally on the slow side, it is well broken up by the appearance of the other characters.

spitting fury

Riley Stewart’s gaoler has a matter-of-fact nastiness to him that works well, while Alan Ireby’s King Edward has a spitting fury.

It does seem that Ireby should have had a moustache to twiddle, such is his resemblance to a villain from Victorian melodrama; he appears to have been included mainly to insult Scotland, just as Wallace is there to celebrate it. This does add to the artificial nature of some of the exchanges, but it always remains both informative and accessible.

Alan Ireby and Bobby Bulloch. Pic ELT

Douglas himself adds some narration at the end, which once again has a distancing effect, but works well on its own terms.

In the end, while this is certainly not Braveheart, it does show Wallace as a heroic character, if a flawed one. Portrayals of Wallace always seem to suggest that he was fighting back against centuries of English occupation, whereas the truth is that Edward’s invasion had only just taken place.

While that is not the case here, it does lay considerable stress on Wallace having the backing of the Scottish people generally, which only goes to highlight the fact that such plays always seem to be about kings and nobles rather than anyone else.

And it is the same three or four figures who keep coming back in plays about Scottish history, sometimes seeming to cater mostly for tourists. Even Rona Munro, whose James Plays at least spotlighted lesser-known monarchs, seems determined to dredge up Mary again.

Wallace does work both as history and drama, however, with a rawness and integrity that makes it compelling.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Hill Street Theatre (Dunedin Theatre), 19 Hill St, EH2 3JP (Venue 41)
Monday 21 – Saturday 27 August 2023
Daily at 3.45 pm
Tickets and details Book here.

Edinburgh Little Theatre links

Company website: https://edinburghlittletheatre.com

Instagram: @edinburghlittletheatre

Facebook: @Edinburghlittletheatre

Twitter: @edlittletheatre



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