Published today at FringeReview.com: Appointment with the Wicker Man ***
Venue: The Assembly Rooms, George Street (3.10pm daily until 26 August)
Wicker’s World ***** Wickering Heights **** Light my fire *** Wicker Basket Case **Appointment with the Dentist *
A colourful (but mainly blue) send up of the 1970s film classic by means of an am-dram play set within the play. A National Theatre of Scotland production. Three stars.
First out, a warning: there’s a muckle load of swearing in the play, a dash of nudity and enough bawdy scenes to make even a Dundonian blush. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t recommend taking your auntie along to see it after lunch at Jenners. If you can get past that, though, then this is good old fashioned laugh out loud pantomime stuff. You really need to have seen the film though, in order to follow the production: but if you can’t manage that then at the very least you might see some of the film’s main scenes on You Tube.
On arrival, the stage has been beautifully set up with a giant Treasure Island-esque map of the mythical Summerisle, and the amateur “Loch Parry Players” have this year decided to put on a production of The Wicker Man. Rory Mulligan (Sean Biggerstaff) is a bigshot Glasgow actor paid to join the Players and act out the role of Sergeant Howie together with the ‘amateurs’. Local bigshot Finlay Fothergill (Greg Hemphill) plays Lord Summerisle, while ‘overactor’ Simon (Jimmy Chisholm) plays The Landlord. Then there’s Fothergill’s rampant and curvaceous daughter Marie (Sally Reid) playing the landlord’s daughter, village simpleton Fran (Paul Riley) plays, well, himself, and the seductive Morag (Rosalind Sydney) is the post mistress. To cap off the am-dram crew there’s the gloriously camp Callum (Johnny McKnight) in the role of director, who shouts stage directions to one and all. As rehearsals of the play progress, however, Rory becomes paranoid that the Loch Parry Players are planning to make life imitate art and do away with him: a paranoia fed on his failure to get any meaningful explanation about what happened to Rodger Morgan, the actor he has replaced as Sergeant Howie…
To paraphrase Groucho Marx, don’t be fooled: this may look complicated and sound complicated but be under no illusions, it is complicated; and gets downright confusing towards the end. The trick, though, is just to go with the flow and enjoy yourself.
The film The Wicker Man is of course deeply disconcerting; and without wishing to spoil it for those who might not have seen it, who can forget Edward Woodward’s performance when the moment of truth finally arrives? Paganism in outlying Scottish communities is a strong theme (brilliantly explored by John Buchan in his novel Witchwood for example), and this production captures much of the downright weirdness of the mythical Summerisle and its sexually uninhibited residents, in a way that has the audience at times squirming, but more often laughing out loud. The reality is, however, that it’s quite a task to combine laugh out loud humour with the chilling amorality of the film’s storyline, and in some places it unfortunately doesn’t quite gel. It’s a pity, because there’s more than enough writing and acting talent here to have made something much more ambitious. Overall though, good fun.