JOYCE MCMILLAN on WHISKY KISSES at Pitlochry Festival Theatre for The Scotsman, 31.5.14. __________________________________________________
3 stars ***
THERE’S NO BRAVER ACT in theatre than to join the process of creating a new full-length musical. Most fail, yet some deliver dazzling success; and if there is a formula that guarantees that success, it remains an elusive one.
As elusive, in fact, as the mix of water, malt and magic that creates a truly memorable whisky; and that is just one of the many metaphors and ideas behind Whisky Kisses, a musical that has been under construction around the Highlands for almost a decade, and has now taken centre stage as the opening show of the 2014 Pitlochry season. Co-written by Euan Martin, Dave Smith and James Bryce, the show is set around a small Speyside distillery called Glenigma, whose comely owner, Mary McGregor, believes that the only hope of raising enough cash to save the business lies in auctioning off the last remaining bottle of a legendary whisky, the 100-year-old Glenigma. Right on cue, two bidders appear, a New York hot-shot financier called Ben Munro, and a young Japanese businessman sent by his dying father; and the scene is set for a tale in which traditional values of craft and community clash merrily with the forces of turbo-charged 21st century capitalism.
There’s no disguising the fact that Whisky Kisses – in its Pitlochry form – is still pretty rough around the edges. Some of the show’s seventeen songs are frankly feeble, and some of John Durnin’s spirited 19-strong company lack the vocal skill to salvage them effectively. The show also often seems confused about the message it’s trying to send, collapsing into an embarrasing parade of couthy Highland stereotypes one minute, then the next coming up with a song that sharply challenges kitsch-filled tourist images of the Highlands.
In the end, though, it’s hard to resist the sheer energy and chutzpah of a show that tries so hard to say something serious yet entertaining about the future of Highland Scotland, even if it often shoots itself in the foot. It’s perhaps significant that some of the best acting in the show involves the burgeoning gay romance between local lad Duncan and Ben’s harassed assistant Jeff, brilliantly played and sung by Scott Armstrong; the rest of the cast could probably work a little harder to lift their characters from the realm of Brigadoon romance or comic steretyope. Yet even as it stands, Whisky Kisses is a good, rollicking night out; and by the end of the Pitlochry season, it may amount to something much better than that.