It’s no coincidence that the late Robin Jenkins’ trawl through this country’s psyche in the first half of the 20th century arrived on the scene in 1979. If Thatcher’s first Westminster victory wasn’t bad enough, the devolution referendum earlier the same year had already left confidence shattered. Today’s climate finds us eight years into the real thing, and, with elections pending both sides of the border, Communicado’s adaptation is a timely encounter.
Not that the story’s be-kilted back-street hero who acquires a double-barrelled name and confidence enough to wheedle his way into bourgeois society is in any way a polemic. Rather, with parallels easily drawn with Candide, Peer Gynt and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, director/adaptor Gerry Mulgrew has stayed true to the yarn’s picaresque origins. Self-knowledge rather than revolution is its epicentre in a tale of class, social climbing and fruitless ambition. So Fergus moves from an officer and would-be poet in the trenches of World War One to a sexless marriage to a rich bitch romantic novelist and an extended Highland retreat before arriving full circle.
Epics like this were made for Mulgrew, a master of stage tableaux, even if some elongated moments between aren’t always thought through. Despite this, hilarious set-pieces such as act one’s pro-war rally finale are wrapped up with enough substance to keep things rollicking along. A bright-eyed cast of eight led by Sandy Grierson as Fergus never run away with things, but allow the deceptively complex array of onstage entrances and exits space enough to breathe through the breeziness and accompanying accordion music. As Fergus belatedly throws himself into the front-line, it’s as if a nation has just woken with a start. Where too next is the interesting part.
The Herald, March 26th 2007