JOYCE MCMILLAN on WHISKY GALORE at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 15.11.14.
4 stars ****
TWO DECADES old and counting, Mull Theatre’s glorious production of Whisky Galore has never pretended to offer more than a joyful evening of classic Scottish comedy, set in a traditional 1950’s Home Service drama studio, and based by playwright Paul Godfrey on Sir Compton Mackenzie’s own radio adaptation. Yet rarely in Scottish theatre can there have been a more perfect match between company and script; and if you simply want a good theatrical night out to warm your heart on a chill November evening, then it’s hard to beat Alasdair McCrone’s pitch-perfect production, with elegant art deco set by Alicia Hendrick.
There’s more going on in Whisky Galore than initially meets the eye, of course. The story of the island without whisky, and of the wreck on its shore of the SS Cabinet Minister carrying 50,000 cases of the stuff, is set amid the wartime command economy of 1943, and involves some powerful comic reflection on the eternal tension between puritanical joylessness and Bacchanalian self-indulgence that runs through both Scottish and English culture, causing endless headaches to those who fancy themselves in authority. McCrone’s five-strong cast – led by Barrie Hunter as male lead Garth Hemlock, and Helen McAlpine as luscious leading lady Karen Wadrick – exude skill, charm and wit throughout, splashing and panting their way through the sound-effects to hilarious effect. And they finally send the audience off into the night with the warm feeling of having had a memorably good laugh, but also of having seen a show that might actually matter, to our understanding of Scotland and Britain at a vital moment in their story.