Scottish comic family hit the stage with mixed results
Perhaps the biggest challenge in Sell A Door's production of The Broons is transferring the antics of a family who have not changed since their debut comic strip in 1938 onto a stage, which demands drama. Since the twins, the bairn, Ma and Paw, Daphne and the gang have stuck to their stereotypes for nearly 80 years, playwright Rob Drummond faced the difficult task of bringing tension into their settled world.
Using a pantomime style – the actors frequently drop character, indulge in slapstick and self-conscious cheap humour – The Broons is undemanding fun, a series of short episodes interspersed with songs. Gradually, the plot emerges (glamorous daughter Maggie is to be married, threatening Maw's family stability) and the characters attempt to escape the stasis that reduces them to punchlines. The lazy jokes outstay their welcome – running at over two hours, it is too long, and the final medley of songs is a weak attempt at a rousing finale – but strong performances from Joyce Falconer as hatchet-faced Maw and Tyler Collins (a moving Hen who longs to escape from his role as the man who gets things down from top shelves) lend dynamism to the indulgence.
Rob Drummond's script, despite the knockabout atmosphere, uses an intelligent conceit to resolve the threat of change, invoking Heidegger's philosophy of Being and Time in one of Scottish theatre's most surprising uses of German existential thought. The family reconcile themselves to their identities, accepting the eternal repetition of their adventures.
The Broons is frequently sloppy – the songs appear to have been chosen at random, although they include plenty of crowd pleasing hits: the twins sing 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)', for example – and the slapstick, in places, lacks precision. Yet there are moments of wit and unashamed populist humour that do justice to the heritage of Scotland's first family.
Gardyne Theatre, Dundee, Thu 27–Sat 29 Oct; King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 1–Sat 5 Nov; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Mon 7–Sat 12 Nov.