Many Scots first experience of comics is likely to be two series published by Dundee-based D C Thomson in their long-running newspaper, The Sunday Post. These are "Oor Wullie" – the adventures of a good-natured, 10-year-old “cheeky-chappy” and his pals – and "The Broons", an extended tenement-living family. Both exist in the fictional Scottish town of Auchenshoogle—a bizarre cross between Glasgow and Dundee, where the 1960s never quite arrived.
There's plenty of fun to be had here with an exuberant cast and production that's full of energy and joy.
There’s little doubt of these characters’ iconic status: in 2004, "Oor Wullie" was voted "Scotland's Favourite Son", ahead of William Wallace and Sir Sean Connery. This year, a charity-fund-raising "trail" of artists’ statues of the wee lad sat on his bucket (the iconic image which usually begins and ends each of his one-page comic strips) raised smiles and money across every Scottish city. He was never, to be honest, part of my own childhood (my family wasn't the sort to buy either The Sunday Post or reprint Annuals) but for many he's a very definition of Scottishness.
So, certainly fair game for a new musical, and it's a relief to say that the Noisemaker team of Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie have come up with a humorous take on the character that’s respectful and yet aware how this Peter Pan-like character relates to the real Scotland after 80 years in print. This isn't simply a musical set within the nostalgic monochrome world of Auchenshoogle, although it manages its fair share of catapults, dungarees and making fun of the local policeman; with a light touch, it has much to say about the reality of a multi-racial, multicultural Scotland.
Indeed, while Martin Quinn gives us a perfectly loveable Wullie (all spiked blond hair and innocent anarchy, though never far from bursting into tears, especially in the face of parental control) the show’s principal protagonist is actually new character Wahid (Eklovey Kashyap), born in Scotland of Pakistani parents and the subject of constant, albeit largely verbal racist bullying. Seeking sanctuary in the school library, the mysterious librarian (who later turns out to also be the "Oor Wullie" artist) gives Wahid an "Oor Wullie" Annual as a way of seeing modern, real Scotland anew and also finding his place in it.
It’s arguably very 21st century that Auchenshoogle is, in this show, an alternative dimension into which Wahid can enter, and Wullie and pals escape—all in search of Wullie’s famous "wee bonnie bucket", which (of course) symbolises both his – and Wahid's – ultimate control of their own stories. Too philosophical? Well, you're not likely to notice; there's plenty of fun to be had here with an exuberant cast and production that's full of energy and joy.