Dundee Rep’s production of Whisky Galore is set in the days of Received Pronunciation and the BBC radio play. We meet the actors of the ‘Armchair Theatre Company’ studio in Edinburgh 1940s who portray the colourful inhabitants of the fictitious Hebridean Islands of Greater and Little Todday. Largely unaffected by wartime rationing, the Todday islanders are utterly devastated when their whisky supply finally runs out. Not a single drop of the stuff to be had! Becoming very anxious indeed, they decide desperate times call for equally desperate measures, and when a night storm wrecks a ship laden with the precious amber liquid just off the coast, it seems their prayers have been answered. The islanders race to take advantage of this unexpected windfall. After all, there’s a wedding to be planned and there’s no party without a dram to toast the bride! However, they are not the only ones with their sights set firmly on the prize. Thus develops a tale of Celtic “free-spirit” versus uptight officialdom!
A small but perfectly formed set contains a whole host of interesting props used by Station Manager Ivor Ash to create the sound effects used in the performance. Coconut shells, pots and pans, and handfuls of branches are all put to good use. It’s fascinating to know that the sound of the characters walking hand-in-hand on the beach can be so easily mimicked with piles of tape spool on the floor and a pan full of stones. An old kettle and a cardboard tube stand in perfectly for the booming ship’s horn. Quite gorgeous vintage costumes lavishly complement the relatively simple set design. Fanny Haywood-Haddock is positively luminous in a pink floor-length beaded number, and the boys are equally dashing in dinner suits and sharp side partings.
Although the film version of Whisky Galore contains a whole host of characters, in this production there are only ever four bodies on stage: the three actors and the tireless Mr Ash, who seemingly spends his entire time leaping around his studio like a demented jack-in-the-box! The many characters from Compton Mackenzie’s story are shared between the trio who skilfully maintain the distinct voices and idiosyncratic postures of each. Watching the frightfully glamorous Ms Heywood-Haddock (Emily Winter) switch from the sexy young thing to the angry old crone with just the simple arch of a perfectly-plucked eyebrow was truly impressive. The audience howled with laughter during her uncannily accurate portrayal of an overly-amorous canine! And the merest hint of an off-stage love affair between Ms Haywood-Haddock and her dapper co-star added yet another layer of excitement and anticipation to the play.
Good-natured humour and nostalgia are the backbone of this play. Audience participation, even to the extent of learning a little of the Gaelic led a happy audience, all willing to suspend belief for an hour or two, to become a part of the proceedings. As the action unfolded, we were encouraged by the Station Manager to contribute to the sound effects, ‘Heee-yeuch’-ing wildly in the way that probably only a Scottish audience might! This was probably helped by the fact that many would have seen the film of the same name, and knew what to expect in the unfolding of the plot. This production met, and in many parts exceeded, the original film’s ‘feel-good factor’. The wonderful direction from Dundee Rep’s own Irene Macdougall was always evident, and this should mean that the warmth and intimacy of the performance will really transport well into the local community centres, where Whisky Galore will continue its tour. The entire set dismantles into moveable chunks and packs into a van, so anyone unfortunate enough to miss this excellent production in the Rep might still manage to catch this excellent work.