The scene is the Nevada desert, 180 miles from Las Vegas. There are a few rocks, a giant cactus, a road with the occasional passing car; and there’s a small, stocky Scotsman, sitting on a rock, mopping his brow. “What’s wrong, Spike?” he says to the cactus. “You never seen a world-beating athlete taking a breather before?” For this man is Jocky Wilson, the legendary Scottish darts player from Kirkcaldy who won the world championship in 1982 and 1989; and this new Play, Pie And Pint monologue, by Fife brother-and-sister team Jane Livingstone and Jonathan Cairney, is based on a real-life incident in which Jocky stayed up drinking and playing darts all night in Los Angeles, missed the bus to his next exhibition match, and had to hitch-hike through the desert to Vegas.
Jocky Wilson Said ****
Oran Mor, Glasgow
NT Connections *** Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
The role of Jocky is brilliantly played by Grant O’Rourke, the award-winning stage actor and Outlander star, who not only conjures up Jocky’s complex character to perfection – his geniality, his sense of fun, the survival mechanisms that helped him deal with a childhood in care, and the sudden streak of steel that made him a champion – but also evokes a whole range of other characters, as seen by Jocky.
None of this would be possible, though, without the sheer energy, affection and skill that shapes Livingstone and Cairney’s script. And with director Tony Cownie’s firm touch on the tiller, the play succeeds in delivering a hugely enjoyable slice of Scottish popular history – and one that celebrates the positive achievement of Jocky’s life as a champion, rather than dwelling on the tales of decay and downfall that often dominate when we remember our Scottish sporting heroes.
I don’t think Jocky Wilson was ever a theatre-going man; but if he had been, he would surely have loved the show that opened this week’s National Theatre Connections season at the Traverse – the annual celebration in which the National Theatre in London commissions new short plays from leading playwrights, to be performed by young theatre companies across the UK. The first company on view, on Wednesday evening, were from Kirkcaldy High School; and the play they chose to perform was Harriet Braun’s Three, in which three pairs of ordinary 21st century teenagers try to work out their respective relationships.
The theatrical trick, though, is that each character is always accompanied by an inner voice, played by a different actor, who cajoles, encourages, scolds and sometimes sulks while they try to impress their possible friend or partner. And although some of the young actors in the 15-strong company were clearly more comfortable and technically skilled on the big Traverse stage than others, the show eventually evolved into a delightful 50-minute exploration of the pitfalls and possibilities of teenage life; full of love and humour, and a fine sense of friendship and mutual support among the company themselves.
NT Connections continues at the Traverse until tonight, when PACE youth theatre from Paisley will perform The Monstrum, by Kellie Smith; and it’s interesting that this old-fashioned costume drama with songs, about a cold mountain village somewhere in Europe where the young people are falling victim to a disease that makes them into ravenous monsters, is the most popular choice among this year’s Scottish NT Connections companies, picked by three groups out of nine.
On Wednesday night, it was performed at the Traverse by Indelible Youth Theatre from East Lothian, in a slightly stilted but good-looking production backed by impressive video images. And if the play’s message – that teenage wildness is not a disease, but an essential part of life – seems too heavily signalled, it’s easy to see how the vivid Gothic atmosphere of the story attracts young theatre-makers raised in the age of the horror movie, and eager to begin to create one of their own.
*Jocky Wilson Said is at the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 28 March until 1 April