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Tunes Of Glory

Perth Theatre,
4 stars
You can all but smell the testosterone in Middle Ground Theatre Company’s adaptation of James Kennaway’s post World War Two novel of rivalry and power games in a Highland barracks where officers idle their days and nights away in whisky-fuelled high-jinks. Cock of the roost is acting Colonel Jock Sinclair, an old school roughneck trained in the school of hard knocks, who’s of the defiantly macho breed that believes everything and anything can be solved over a dram. Jock’s power-base is knocked asunder by the arrival of Basil Barrow to take over his command. A blue-blooded, soft-drink sipping southerner, Barrow’s eye for detail is the antithesis of Sinclair’s talent for ingratiating himself with the overgrown lads of the officer’s mess.

What follows in Michael Lunney’s production is a brilliantly observed war of attrition between two men in uniform still learning how to re-define and express themselves in the uneasy peace-time they’re now living in. For all its reactionary backdrop, the world Kennaway lays bare can be seen as a pre-cursor to Black Watch, Gregory Burke’s contemporary depiction of army life.

For, despite its obvious local appeal (Kennaway based the barracks on his own posting at Perth’s Queen’s Barracks), there’s nothing couthy or sentimental on show. Both men are scarred by their war-time traumas, though each hides their weakness in very different ways in this almighty howl of a play. A masterful Stuart McGugan plays Sinclair with bluff, unflinching ferocity and Richard Walsh makes a more obviously vulnerable Barrow leading a well-drilled cast of 15 through a brutal tale of survival, self-preservation, and the self-destructive cost the terror of appearing weak in a man’s world can inflict.

The Herald, April 23rd 2007

ends

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