The smell of freshly baked pies and the natter of pals out for a spot of lunchtime theatre is always a joy to be a part of. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it I am of course talking about A Play, a Pie and a Pint founded by David Maclennan and supported by the National Theatre of Scotland. This gem of a theatre initiative which takes place at lunchtimes across Scotland runs for over 40 weeks of the year and is a celebrated space for new writing and new talent. Known for showcasing fabulous theatre this production was no exception.
We are welcomed by what appears to be a member of the event staff doing housekeeping with us. But it soon transpires that he is in fact one of the performers and encourages us tenfold to hurl abuse and throw things at the performers about the enter the stage, the reason behind which becomes quickly apparent. In jaunts our writer and actor Gary McNair who introduces us to the worst Poet in Scottish History, William Topaz McGonagall.
Accompanied by two talented musicians, gifted story teller and clown McNair, leads us through the life of this Pierrot-esque Poet, the son of two immigrant Irish weavers who at the age of 52 decides to pursue the life of a Poet. The ill-fated artists ridicule from the local papers and battles with Dundonian mobs are brought to life in front of us by the help of actor-muso Brian James O’Sullivan who plays all the other characters (by switching hats, naturally). Introductions and a good auld sing song later McNair transforms into McGonagall, with the help of some basic costume, and what follows is an hour of delightful Scottish humour, tear-jerking tales, and subtle but effective background music. It is a charming show, told with hilarity and sensitivity.
McNair speaks the whole show in rhyme, making it one giant poem, which in itself leads to some comical moments, most of which involve rhyming funny words together (or purposefully not rhyming at all). McGonagall himself is hysterically tragic as he seems to exhibit no acknowledgement of, or concern for his peers’ opinions of his work and keeps marching on despite the obvious mockery he faces. This was recreated at one moment in the show where the front row had bowls of lettuce to chuck onto the stage. As much as we laugh with McNair we feel sorrow for this misunderstood man, who just wanted to write poetry, and change the ending of Macbeth.
If the show was lacking one thing, it was another song (or two) and not that it detracted from the overall merit of the show but the set design lacked imagination and finesse. The moral of the story seems to be... Art is subjective, but that never means we shouldn't give recognition to the hard work and vulnerability it takes artists to produce work and to present it to their peers.
Written by @lucy_newbery