You know that uncle you have who doesn’t know when to stop talking? Who assumes you’re interested in every conversation he had with every person he spoke to today and thinks his jokes are bit funnier than they actually are? Imagine that relative up on stage, pretending to be an eighteenth century Glaswegian lawyer and you’ll have a fairly accurate picture of what awaits you at a performance of The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer.
This one-man show is the story of the immoral and impecunious lawyer Enoch Dalmellington, as he struggles to pay his debts and marry off his daughter. He’s not a particularly likable narrator and the fact that he presents all of the people he speaks about as two-dimensional caricatures makes it hard to invest in the story at all. The humour of the play seems mostly to derive from the fact that Dalmellington doesn’t believe in predictions of the future that the audience know to be true - the existence of cars and televisions - and the occasional juxtaposition of words that rhyme such as ‘hither’, ‘thither’ and ‘dither’.
John Bett, playing the out-of-pocket lawyer, seems to assume that the way to make his delivery interesting is to emphasise every second syllable, regardless of whether he’s decrying his monetary woes or celebrating a marriage. Though Dalmellington undergoes considerable changes in fortune throughout the show, he doesn’t develop at all, with each scene being delivered in the same tone of mild and genteel surprise.
I’ll admit that one episode involving a tartan garter managed to make me smile but that’s not nearly enough to redeem the show. I can only recommend The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer if you find your talkative uncle endlessly fascinating, or are genuinely amused by the fact that they didn’t believe in TV in 1793. Otherwise, it isn’t worth sitting through.