King of Scotland
  • By Tom King
  • |
  • 21st Aug 2011
  • |
  • ★★★

One-man fringe shows tend towards extremes. They can be horrendously depressing or incredibly uplifting. What makes The King of Scotland interesting is that it breaks this rule, being a one-hander which is neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad; it simply is. Tommy McMillan is a persistent good-for-nothing, unemployed for 28 years and cheerfully proud of the fact. Until, that is, he’s taken on as the poster child of a welfare-to-work scheme under the personal supervision of Sir Alec, a position which feeds his deluded sense of his own importance. Over the course of a series of monologues he becomes increasingly distanced from reality, beginning by giving forth on the persistent mould in the bathroom and ending with a plot to rob an old lady’s dog of the letters that he’s convinced it’s been writing. Along the way he creates a world of gold-paved Edinburgh streets, flying taxis and high-rise zoos; a world where the official language is gibberish and the supreme ruler is one Tommy McMillan.Jonathan Watson is excellent as Tommy, by turns amusing, sympathetic, befuddling and frightening. He wears the character with aplomb, a pontificating pikey poet with ideas far, far above his station. His living-in-the-gutter-gazing-at-the-stars mentality is very engaging but he tempers it with a sulky little mean streak which adds an interesting extra aspect to the character.While the performance at the centre of it is excellent, the show’s one big weakness is that it takes its own surreality too far. These swerves to the truly bizarre are jarring because they disrupt the rapport we’ve built up with Tommy, taking us back to square one and forcing him to charm us all over again.The King of Scotland is funny and largely well done. My scant knowledge of Scottish politics meant I missed out on some of the finer points of the satire but I still found it an amusing, bemusing, interesting show. Audiences from outside Scotland may benefit from a little background reading before watching but it ought to raise a smile, no matter your level of knowledge.

Reviews by Tom King

Summerhall

A Fortunate Man

★★★
Underbelly, Cowgate

The Cat's Mother

★★★
The Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4

Phill Jupitus: Sassy Knack

★★★★
Traverse Theatre

Nigel Slater’s Toast

★★★
CanadaHub @ King's Hall in association with Summerhall

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

★★★★
Assembly George Square Gardens

Jess Robinson: No Filter

★★★★

The Blurb

Featuring trouserless bankers, talking dogs, flying taxis and a razor sharp parody of Scottish politics, Iain Heggie's outrageous Fringe First-winning comedy has been updated and stars Jonathan Watson (Only an Excuse) as Tommy.