Rona Munro's comedy drama, originally produced for Radio 4 in 2008, tells the story of a period in the life of Walter Scott when he was tasked with commissioning a kilt for King George IV to wear on a controversial visit to Scotland. Scott must persuade the best kilt maker in Scotland to make the garment despite her justifiable dislike of the king, whose father began the bloody wars that led to the deaths of members of her family. Scott must also keep his bullying landlady onside by writing a book in which he sings her praises.
The dialogue is lovely. By turns beautiful and absurd, funny and quotable, the feeling is of watching a master of her craft have a bit of fun with this light little play.
In the hands of a less skilled writer, the tension between the very serious and subtly executed criticism of Scott's presentation of Highlanders in his work, and the farcical “landlady” subplot, could have felt a bit strained. However, Munro manages it perfectly. The comedy is fast, plentiful and intelligent. We are absolutely encouraged to enjoy it, and the political messages just seep gently in along with them.
Munro, whose most recent work, The James Plays, played both the National Theatre of Scotland and the National Theatre of Great Britain, brings her familiar eloquence to this piece. The dialogue is lovely. By turns beautiful and absurd, funny and quotable, the feeling is of watching a master of her craft have a bit of fun with this light little play. It’s a treat to be part of it.
Under the assured direction of Marilyn Imrie, David Mara gives an enjoyably solid performance as Walter Scott, and manages to squeeze a lot of character into the much smaller role of Dr. Walt Scott; his transition from one character to the other being pleasingly seamless. Beth Marshall’s Ailsa is emotionally intelligent and thoughtful; she largely carries the political message of the piece and does so with subtlety, always keeping it well embedded in her character. Alison Peebles shines as the two “Missus McEvoys”; clearly relishing such a strong character part, she delivers most of the laughs in the production.
In all, a brilliant hour’s entertainment with plenty of laughs, and enough serious critical material to keep you thinking about it afterwards.