JOYCE MCMILLAN on STILL GAME at The Hydro, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 22.9.14. __________________________________________________________
4 stars ****
WHEN MAJOR rock stars appear at The Hydro in Glasgow, they impress with their ability to fill the mighty 13,000-seat auditorium for two or three nights. But back down, Beyonce, and tip your hat, Rod Stewart; for the crusty veterans of the cult BBC Scotland comedy show Still Game are set to play The Hydro for a full three weeks, with barely an empty seat in the house.
They’re generation “No” and proud of it, the bunch of none-too-fragrant old gits first created by Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan for their sketch-show Chewin’ The Fat; truculent, unimpressed, and instinctively hostile to anything invented after 1970. There’s nothing low-tech, though, about director Michael Hines’s new stadium version of the show, which uses everything from giant screens to an all-singing, all-dancing Glasgow Bollywood finale, to deliver a vintage two-and-a-half hour story, in which the show’s two central characters Jack and Victor – played by Kiernan and Hemphill – hatch up a plan to use barman Boabby’s new i-pad to skype their way into Jack’s daughter’s renewal-of-vows ceremony in Canada.
The show’s familiar settings are all there, both live on stage and projected large on the huge screens; and so, to roars of approval, the action moves from The Clansman bar, to Jack’s flat, to Navid’s corner shop, accompanied by huge, lyrical exterior shots of the show’s fictional Glasgow home turf, Craiglang, and a fierce, mashed-up rap soundtrack.
It’s not just the technology, though, that helps Still Game to succeed as a live show on a unique scale; for in a cheeky meta-theatrical twist, Kernan and Hemphill send Jack and Victor wandering into a theoretical discussion about the idea of the “fourth wall”, and then bursting straight through it, to chat up the roaring crowd with all the aplomb of a pair of veteran pantomime stars. In no time at all, Sanjeev Kholi’s Navid is out among the audience trying to flog us fizzy drinks, while Steve the evil bookie tries to muscle into the action from his seat in the stalls. All the show’s original stars are firmly in place, from Gavin Mitchell’s Barman Boabby and Clansman regulars Tam and Winston to Jane McCarry’s Isa, the only woman in sight. And by the time Isa drinks some accidental magic-mushroom soup, triggering the show’s mind-blowing Bollywood finale, the audience is enjoying the night of its life, in a show that earned its place in sitcom history with its rare combination of geriatric wit, ruthless unsentimentality and unstoppable life-force, and demonstrates here that it has lost none of its edge.