Theatre review: The Wee One | Tales from The Hanging Captain

The Leith Festival is not a pretentious business. It features ten days of fun, games, music, exhibitions and community drama, and then disappears over the horizon, after a final flourish in the shape of next weekend's groovy Leith Late event, which over four days offers a glimpse of Leith's creative life through evening events in venues on Leith Walk, debates at Out Of The Blue, and tours around Leith's new generation of murals and street art.

Leith Dockers Club. Picture: Greg Macvean

The Wee One | Rating: *** | Leith Dockers’ Club

Tales From The Hanging Captain | Rating: *** | Out of the Blue, Leith

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So it’s perhaps not surprising that these two pieces of new drama, staged in Leith this week, are mainly about fun and entertainment, with just a hint of some serious underlying themes. Theatre Imperative’s The Wee One, at Leith Dockers’ Club early in the week, is an impressive slice of family drama, which begins by focussing on ­middle-aged mum Marie, her husband John, and Marie’s indulgent attitude to their banker son Danny, who still lives at home and pays his Mum a pittance for bed and board, while swanning around the town in a £50,000 car.

The drama takes a darker turn, though, when Marie suddenly collapses. And although Philip Rainford’s play seems rather like two episodes of a feel-good family drama series combined into a single 70-minute evening – and was plagued by technical gremlins on Tuesday night – the story is so well told, and comes wrapped in such a lively and sympathetic series of performances from the five-strong company, led by Rainford himself, that these minor flaws hardly seem to matter.

Tales From The Hanging Captain, at Out Of The Blue, is much more of a work in progress, a large-scale community project run by Active Inquiry theatre company with Out Of The Blue and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and featuring a diverse 12-strong company that reflects Leith’s cosmopolitan, port-town energy.

The project’s first show, playing this weekend, offers three tales about Leith’s history, told in sketchy rough-theatre style as if to a pub crowd. There’s the one about the Leith Dockers strike of 1913, the one about the Greenland whaling industry, and the one about how the pub itself got its name, from the vindictive hanging of an English sea captain on the Leith foreshore in 1705, in revenge for the failure of Scotland’s Darien expedition.

This was only the first blast, though, in a project that is set to continue over two years, as new Tales are added to the store. So as we left Out Of The Blue, each audience member was handed a stylish Hanging Captain beer mat, on which to write the title of our own Leith story, and a contact address.

And it looks as if this one will run and run, under the direction of Active Inquiry’s Gavin Crichton; for if ever there was a town full of stories, that knew how to persevere in telling them, it’s the venerable, beautiful and unpredictable Port of Leith.