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A Game of Death and Chance

Gladstone’s Land, Edinburgh
Three stars

Some countries have all the luck. This is something made abundantly clear in this second theatrical excursion by the National Trust for Scotland, which, following on from Enlightenment House in Charlotte Square, moves into another of the capital’s most historically charged but largely unsung buildings. Originally built in 1550 in the Lawnmarket, the six-storey tenement was redeveloped in the seventeenth century to become home for a variety of tenants from across the social classes.

In the hands of writer/director Ben Harrison, best known in these parts for his work with site-specific specialists Grid Iron, here working alongside co-director Allie Winton Butler, such a rich source becomes a series of thumbnail sketches of crucial moments in Scottish history. As the audience move from room to room in what feels like an Old Town approximation of the Chelsea Hotel, the twist here is that any one of three different stories can be presented in each scene depending on which way the fates have it.

Vehicles for this include the assorted tankards proffered by Mary Gapinski’s landlady Lucky Lucy, to the very English brands of tea served up by novelist and spy Daniel Defoe, brought to flamboyant life by Kevin Lennon. There is also the genteel optimism of Mark Kydd’s Somerville, who invests blind faith and a considerable sum besides in the doomed Darien expedition. Best of all is Wendy Seager’s bed-bound and sickly embodiment of Caledonia itself. These bite-size scenes are interspersed with the presence of Deith, embodied by the operatic brooding of composer David Paul Jones, who invokes all manner of plague on the house’s occupants.

This is all entertainingly enlightening enough over the show’s forty-five-minute duration, with each stand-alone scene timed to allow audiences to be staggered across the afternoon and the show itself on a kind of live loop without any dramatic full-stop. Given the current state of flux in terms of Scotland’s fortunes, such open-endedness is a pointer towards the future, making history as it goes.

The Herald, July 19th 2019

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