Theatre review: Del Gesu's Viola, Oran Mor, Glasgow

In the 1970s, playwright Hector MacMillan was the toast of Scottish theatre for his powerful, unflinching dramas about Scotland's past and present, notably his legendary The Sash, about an archetypal Glasgow Orange patriarch.
Del Gesu's Viola. Picture: FacebookDel Gesu's Viola. Picture: Facebook
Del Gesu's Viola. Picture: Facebook

Del Gesu’s Viola | Rating: *** | Oran Mor, Glasgow

He’s on gentler territory, though, with this new short play for A Play, A Pie And A Pint, in which he reflects on another of his life’s creative tasks, violin-making, and on the scale of values which makes certain old violins – the Stradivarius and Guarneri instruments made in 18th century Cremona – priceless, while modern instruments made with as much care, and producing as fine a sound, remain much less valuable. A furious violin dealer played by Finlay Welsh faces the accused – a shuffling, cardigan-clad Peter Kelly – with the allegation that he missold him a small viola of his own making by implying that it might have something to do with Guarneri, also known as Del Gesu. Eileen Nicholas, as the procurator fiscal, tries to work out if there is a case to answer.

It’s a simple plot outline, and the play itself is slightly ponderous, in unfolding its argument. Yet given deeply felt performances from three great veterans of the Scottish stage, the story of Del Gesu’s Viola – partly told in the 
violin-maker’s rich working-class Italian-Scots – is full of charm and truth. This is not a great play, but a lovely one, inspired by a deep love of music, and a healthy contempt for those who understand the price of everything in the music world, while knowing nothing of the true value of music, why it really matters.

• Final performance today

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