The Auld Alliance

To make The Auld Alliance, start with a nice big helping of Jane Austen. Make sure you don’t just get the middle-class setting and the multiple beautiful though somehow unmarried daughters; you need to get the witty dialogue and complicated love affairs as well. Whip in some attention-grabbing questions like ‘What happened to the box full of treasure?’ and ‘Who is this mysterious French soldier?’. Finally – and herein lies the trick - leave to cool in bonnie Scotland.

Even at its slowest moments, The Auld Alliance is a sight to behold.

The Auld Alliance is a new piece from the Edinburgh People’s Theatre. Set at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, it tells the story of a Fife merchant and his family who suddenly get caught up in international affairs when a French ship wrecks on a nearby beach. It’s gorgeous aesthetic and charming dialogue successfully make up for its length and a few flaws in performance.

My image of a Fringe show is a 60-minute performance in a conference room or office space with a taped-on ‘stage’, surrounded by chairs on the same level. It was a nice change of pace to see a show that looked more like traditional theatre. Not only is there a raised stage but a full set, three walls with hangings, and furnished with period-appropriate items. The costumes are amazing too - appropriate, colourful and well tailored. Even at its slowest moments, The Auld Alliance is a sight to behold.

It is, however, slow at times. The runtime is two hours and twenty minutes, exponentially longer than many other shows. Long sections are reserved for exposition and resolution which could have probably been done more efficiently. I can’t say I was ever bored but then I’ve read Sense and Sensibility, a novel that spends dozens of pages providing the backstory for the central family’s monetary woes.

The writing did impress in other ways. At times I wondered if characters were behaving at all rationally but by the end every question is satisfactorily resolved. More importantly for this style of narrative, I became invested in the characters and wanted to know what would happen to them.

Some of that, of course, is due to the talent on the stage. The only actor I didn’t like was Peter Morrison as the obligatory military love interest. He was good at the gentility required of the character but failed to be convincing as a military officer. Iain Fraser and Sally North were likable as the elderly couple but both struggled with lines to the degree that I’m not convinced it will resolve itself. Special congratulations go to Kathryn Clark as Elspeth the maid who, despite pouting a tad too often, brought so much energy and personality to the role that I couldn’t help but smile.

The Auld Alliance isn’t the greatest piece of theatre ever made but it is a truly genuine experience. Seeing an audience with ages ranging from what looked to be 25 to 70 brought together by a common love for the stage brings joyousness to their work. I had fun at The Auld Alliance and I hope others do too.

Reviews by Bennett Bonci

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The Blurb

During the Napoleonic War of 1815, a French warship is wrecked on a remote part of the Fife coast. A local family give shelter to the apparent sole survivor of the shipwreck, but they soon suspect that this is not the ordinary seaman he claims to be. When a casket of gold disappears from the wrecked ship, they find themselves entangled in a web of intrigue and mystery. The play mixes comedy with drama and a touch of romance as events reach a happy climax, but not before some tense moments and more than a few surprises.