JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE GREAT TRAIN RACE at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 17.9.13. _________________________________________________________
4 stars ****
THIS IS THE NIGHT train crossing the border; or rather, it’s two night trains, one crossing the Border at Berwick, the other at Carlisle. Robert Dawson Scott’s debut play for the lunchtime Play, Pie and Pint season – set to travel on to Aberdeen next week – is set in the high summer of 1895, when Britain’s two great north-south railway companies, the North British and the Caledonian, became involved in a furious battle for the title of fastest railway service between London and Aberdeen. The Caledonian’s west coast line was longer, heading up through Preston and Glasgow before it joined the east coast line at Kinnaber, near Montrose. But the Caley also had faster engines, and a more ruthless attitude; and Dawson Scott’s cheerful 50-minute show – like a jolly summer panto with added history – spins endless fun out of the classically contrasting Scottish characters of mouthy Glaswegian Cammie, the Caledonian man, and stuffily respectable Norrie, of the North British.
The Great Train Race is no-one’s idea of great drama; it’s a little heavy on factual exposition – much of carried by Joyce Falconer, who plays the Kinnaber signal box with great dignity – and its theatrical style has a touch of 1970’s theatre-in-education about it. The play has two gold plated assets though; first in the superb and hilarious performances of Iain Robertson and Grant O’Rourke as Cammie and Norrie – and also as Norrie’s sexy wife and Cammie’s wee boy – and secondly in the sheer popular energy of Dawson Scott’s writing, which draws on inspirations from Shakespeare to Liz Lochhead. As a lifelong arts journalist in Scotland, Robert Dawson Scott knows the cultural territory in minute and affectionate detail; and Robert Jones’s fine, witty production has the Oran Mor audience yelling with laughter – and, of course, ruthlessly taking the side of Cammie and his west coat trains, against those snooty types from the east.