Whisky Galore – Review – Hull Truck Theatre
By David Schuster, May 2018
Roles for women in the performing arts is an important media focus at the moment, so when I discovered that Director Kevin Shaw’s production of Whisky Galore features an all-female cast I was intrigued; I’ve watched the 1949 Ealing comedy, and the 2017 remake, both have several key male leads. How could these be believably transposed? Would it still work as a comedy?
The story of Whisky Galore was written by Compton Mackenzie but is based on true events. In February 1941 the SS Politician was wrecked on rocks off Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides, losing its cargo of 264,000 bottles of Scotch whisky. To nearby islanders, feeling the austere bite of war time rationing, this was a windfall not to be missed.
The lights dim in Hull Truck Theatre 2018. When they come back on we are transported to a Cooperative Hall in 1955, and the secret of Philip Goulding’s adaptation of the story is revealed as a play within a play.
We are witnessing a show put on by the Pallas Players, an all-female theatre troupe. Thus, we quite naturally expect to see women performing male parts. This too has roots in historical fact: From 1927 to 1963 adaptations of Shakespeare and other classics were brought to schools and civic halls by the Osiris Players. This was a group of seven versatile and extremely hard-working women. True to this, tonight’s show also has just seven equally talented and adaptable actors.
Plunging us straight into the world of jolly 1950’s farce, the cast fully exploit the comedy potential of the Scottish accent, the makeshift stage, props and the many costume changes. We are also informed that a principle member of the cast has had to be replaced at the last minute, allowing for some comic moments where she is in the wrong place or costume for the scene.
“Clever uses of scenery”
There are some clever uses of scenery. I particularly enjoyed the car scenes where cut-out sheep and hills on sticks are used to mimic the movement of the car through the countryside to great and funny effect.
Sally Armstrong does a fantastic job as narrator. However, with characterisation reminiscent of Victoria Wood, performance of the night is given by Joey Parsad as Joseph Macroon. A Scot faced with the prospect of seeing both his daughters married without any whisky for the celebrations.
As ever with comedy, sometimes the funniest moments are those which are unrehearsed. At one point the doctor’s moustache slowly peels off ‘his’ face as he talks to Captain Waggett. At this Isabel Ford, who plays Waggett, does an exaggerated double-take and quickly ad-libs: “Did you just shave, man?”
There are some things which do not work so well: As far as I can tell the actors are not fitted with microphones and have to rely on voice projection. This is surprising, but whether this is in keeping with the 1950’s setting or not, the actors voices sometimes strain to fill the large auditorium, and this detracts from the production.
Additionally, the spotlight cleverly used to simulate a lighthouse in the Scottish mist, shines right into the eyes of the audience, leaving some of us dazzled. The beam should be lowered slightly below eye line. Most importantly the final wedding celebration scene loses pace and humour but is saved by the closing song in praise of whisky.
These are minor niggles though. I laughed a lot, which has to be the best measure of a comedy. The cast are all excellent in their multitudinous parts. Whisky Galore highlights that, with creative skill, more lead roles can and should be created for women.