A schoolboy bully who terrorises Oor Wullie in the long-running comic strip is to be turned into a tearaway girl to ensure a new musical on the iconic character is more “gender balanced”, its creators have revealed.
Basher McKenzie, the nemesis of Wullie, Fat Boat, Soapy Soutar and Wee Eck, will become a central character when their adventures in the fictional town of Auchenshoogle are brought to the stage later this year.
The show, which will go on to tour Scotland next year after launching in Dundee, will also honour illustrator Dudley D Watkins, who helped create the mischief-maker in 1936 and drew his exploits for more than 30 years.
A new character, Dudley, Auchenshoogle’s librarian, who has possible magic powers, will be named after the artist and take centre stage in the show, a centrepiece of Dundee Rep’s 80th-anniversary season. Another new character will also be joining Wullie and his pals, but will be kept firmly under wraps until the show’s premiere in November.
Brand new songs are being created for the production, which is being written by award-winning musical theatre double-act Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie, graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.
The story will be partly set in Auchenshoogle, where both Oor Wullie and The Broons comic strips are set and another, much less familiar, world to the character and his pals.
Basher McKenzie will be joining other female characters, such as Wullie’s “Maw” and Primrose, the schoolgirl he has repeatedly rebuffed.
Dundee Rep’s artistic director Andrew Panton, who will direct the show, said: “As part of the re-imagining of Oor Wullie, we wanted to gender balance the show and make it more representative of contemporary Dundee and Scotland. It’s actually quite a male-heavy comic strip. We need to make sure that people can see themselves on stage – it’s a key part of what we do. Dudley will help to bring Oor Wullie into the world we are now. The librarian is a nod to Dudley D Watkins, who is inextricably connected to Oor Wullie. We really wanted to honour his roots, as well as imagine a more contemporary world Oor Wulle is in now.”
Claire McKenzie said: “We are always keen with any story we are telling to make sure there are strong female characters. It’s something we’re really passionate about. Basher is more of a supporting character in the comic strips. We thought we could transform that character and Primrose will also be very important in the show.
“The show needs to be nostalgic for people who have loved Oor Wullie over the last 80 years, but for a new audience it also needs to reflect their society.”
Scott Gilmour said: “Basher is a character that was introduced a bit later in the comic strips. He is a real tormenter of Wullie and he and his pals often have to team up against him We have reimagined Basher as a big, bad female character.
“It’s really important audiences are watching the world they live in, regardless of whether it’s a title that has existed for this long or not.
“There is a responsibility on people making work to make sure it is inclusive and diverse.”