Thursday, November 13, 2008

"The Tobacco Merchant's Lawyer" - November 2008

Having missed this earlier in the year when it premiered at Oran Mor we were pleased to see it picked up by Retrograde for a short run at the Tron. Set in Glasgow's Merchant City in 1780, as told by the titular character Enoch Dalmellington, the tale takes place literally yards from the theatre - which adds something a little special to the piece.

Benny Young takes over the role in the revival of this one man show, and having enjoyed his performances recently in 'The Drawer Boy' and 'Six Acts of Love' we had high hopes for the evening. But while Young's characterisation as he inhabits the many participants in his tale is excellent, I'm afraid there were just too many stumbled lines to overlook - even for a first night performance (although not a Preview). Add in an unfortunate, but deftly handled, on-stage spillage and Mr Young was not having a good night - and his appearance at the curtain call suggested he had enjoyed the evening much less than the audience had. For despite its flaws this remained an enjoyable evening that was well received in the packed auditorium.

Ian Heggie's play is an amusing but slight piece of theatre that benefits from pushing the buttons of the local audience - much like watching 'Taggart' to spot the filming locations. And I have mixed feelings about one of the play's devices - the pronouncements of the local fortune teller on what lies in store for Glasgow of the future (our present). On one hand it's certainly effective at generating the laughs but it's just too easy - the scriptwriter's equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, and seems distinctly tagged on to the main plot. Although quite how these elements will go down when the show plays at Edinburgh's Traverse in December I'm not at all sure.

The other problem I have with the play is seemingly trivial but hugely significant - the name given to the Dalmellington's daughter who causes him so much fretting. Early on in the piece the character's deadpan delivery and morose disposition will evoke memories to those of a certain age of the late great Rikki Fulton's 'Reverend I M Jolly'. Naming the daughter 'Euphemia' (Jolly's wife's name) makes the comparisons inevitable, and while they can be sustained for a few minutes, over the course of an hour it can only compare unfavourably.

An entertaining enough evening but not one that will be featuring in our end of year highlights.

The Tobacco Merchant's Lawyer runs at the Tron until Saturday 15th November and at the Traverse from 11th to 13th December.