Just yards from James Boswell’s Edinburgh birthplace and subsequent residence on the Lawnmarket, MHK Productions & Rhymes with Purple present his famed friendship with Samuel Johnson.
Boswell and Johnson: two enlightened minds, two contrasting spirits.
Across the taverns of London, and most famously, the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, Brian Mani (Johnson) and Brian J. Gill (Boswell) create a believable relationship of two enlightened minds and two contrasting spirits. Drawing on Boswell’s original documents of their time together, the script dashes along with vigour, trying to pack in as much as possible within Fringe time strictures.
We are guided on our journey by academic Joan Weinstein, initially somewhat brittle and prudish and struggling to find her own way in the literary world. Her discovery of a cache of Boswell’s papers in a Scottish manor house scaffolds the narrative and facilitates the swift and well-executed many scene changes.
There is an infectious energy and clear commitment to detail in this production: it is very well loved and immaculately researched. You don’t need to be particularly familiar with either man to enjoy it (but if you’re at the Fringe and haven’t at least heard of either of them, you need to seriously sort yourself out) but it will help if you can buy into why Dr Johnson is still regarded as such a Colossus of letters. There is a huge amount of information to cram in, and playwright Marie Kohler certainly seems to enjoy the opportunities to draw out elements of bawdiness and humour to lighten the earnest literary tone. Ultimately though, it is the extremely strong performance of Mani and Gill, and the delicious piquancy of the location which carry the show.