First, a health warning. This new musical based on DC Thomson’s legendary Broons comic strip – created by touring company Sell A Door with playwright Rob Drummond and director Andrew Panton – represents the kind of deliberate, no-holds-barred car crash of popular Scottish culture that should probably be avoided by Scots of a nervous disposition, whatever their tastes. On a set by Becky Minto that never attempts a literal representation of their famous tenement home at 32 Glebe Street, these 21st-century Broons sprawl around on furniture made up of the giant bright-red letters of their own name, yet are surrounded by walls covered in familiar Sunday Post comic-strips, to which they bear a striking physical resemblance.
They wear vaguely modern clothes, but inhabit all decades and none since their first appearance in 1936; they sign up for internet dating, but chat in a ripe and couthy old-fashioned Scots.
The Broons ****
Perth Concert Hall
The show’s timeless quality is reflected in a mind-blowing playlist of mainly Scottish popular classics, which ranges from Harry Lauder’s Roamin In The Gloamin, through the White Heather Club signature tune, to Deacon Blue and plenty of Proclaimers, and is delivered with terrific panache by the entire company, from Joyce Falconer’s passionate Maw Broon on accordion, to Kern Falconer’s Granpaw on various pipes and whistles. And in a characteristically bold stroke by Rob Drummond, the characters plunge into a plot that compels them to confront their strange agelessness, as glamorous daughter Maggie announces her engagement, threatening to break up Maw Broon’s happy family for good.
How well all this works is largely a matter of taste, or a thoroughly enjoyable lack of it. The show often looks rough and under-rehearsed, the script needs to be tidied, shortened and stripped of advice-page sentimentality, the ten-song musical finale is absurdly overlong, and not well delivered. Yet there’s so much blazing postmodern wit and talent on view from the show’s brilliant 11-strong cast that all these faults somehow seem forgivable. And with a few terrific old and new jokes to drive the story on its way, the old banger that is the Broons’ family life finally shudders safely home to Glebe Street, splattered with clever, ironic reflection on what the heck has happened to Scottish popular culture over the last 80 years, and how it’s perhaps easier to cope with change when we leave some things fundamentally untouched, caught forever in the old family snapshot of time.