David Greig is one of Scotland’s most influential and prolific playwrights (forty plays in the last 20 years). The diversity of his work is extraordinary. He has produced work from Damascus (Edinburgh International Festival 2009) through to Dunsinane (Royal Shakespeare Company 2010) and has adapted several classics including Euripides’ Bacchae starring Alan Cumming (National Theatre of Scotland 2007). His work for children includes Gobbo (2006) and Dr Korczak’s Example (Theatre Around Glasgow, 2001). A Scottish playwright, yes, but one who looks outwards, beyond the personal to issues such as globalisation and national identity; his work has an international and European feel to it. More recently, he has established a bigger footprint in the London theatrical scene. Victoria was the first play he produced for the RSC in London premiering at the Pit in the Barbican in 2000. A trilogy in one play, Victoria tells the story of three generations of a Scottish Highland community. Greig has said that the sheer scale of the piece still amazes him. His original intention was to write three full length plays but he had to compress them into this one long production; the structure of the play reflects this compression. The original production had a cast of 32 characters and was designed to be played by a minimum of 15 actors. The Rep Company managed well with 12 versatile actors and a musician.
The play revolves around three Victorias. Act I takes place in 1936. Victoria is a minister’s daughter made pregnant and then abandoned by Oscar, a prospective student. Oscar leaves with his friend Euan, an estate worker, to fight the fascists in Spain but not before Oscar has killed David, a Nazi sympathiser and the owner of the manor, The Red House, who has raped Shona the kitchen maid.
By Spring 1974 all has changed and the family are forced to sell the house. Euan, who is managing Connolly, a folk singer, arranges to have him shot in the hand so Euan can use the insurance money to buy the house. Victoria, a geologist that Euan rescues from a plane crash, decides to stay as Euan’s partner in what looks like being a potential base for North Sea oil exploration.
Act III is set in 1996. The estate is now a quarry; Euan wants to develop it further but he faces environmental protesters. His marketing consultant, Kirsty, gets permission to extend the quarry by linking its development with the building of a new training centre for local young people. Victoria is the spoilt daughter of Vicky, who lives in the Red House. Victoria discovers Oscar’s past and cremates his recently buried body on the hillside.
This rudimentary outline of the plot does little justice to its complexity. Greig’s play reflects on the shifting and political fabric of Scotland in the 20th century through a small highland community. The play is very cleverly structured and there are many references back and forward between the acts. Many themes are touched on but because of its complexity the play tends to “tell” rather than “show” at times. There are also so many characters it is hard for the audience to empathise with any of them and that said, the Rep Company did develop their characters well, considering the short time they have in each of their roles. The action is set in many different places, including an aeroplane, so the set had to be as complex as the plot. The designer might have produced a set that worked well, however, in attempting realism the design also ended up lacking cohesion and was, as a result, aesthetically rather unpleasing.
Victoria is a very interesting play and certainly worth seeing but it appeals to the head rather than the heart. It feels too long and perhaps tries to do too much.