The Origins of Ivor Punch, Oran Mor, Glasgow *** | The Verdict, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh *** | Rock of Ages, Edinburgh Playhouse ***
Essentially, The Origins Of Ivor Punch is an awkward yet merry piece of island absurdism, in which present-day Mull policeman Ivor Punch (Andrew John Tait) and his cheerily obscene pal Randy (Tom McGovern) encounter a ghostly apparition on the road outside Tobermory one wild night, and find that she is Henrietta Bird (Eva Traynor), who has already appeared to Ivor in dreams.
Swerving happily between the 1860s and 2019, Stuart Hepburn’s production is played out against a brilliantly stylised backdrop of the Tobermory seafront, and takes several sharp swipes at the joyless religiosity that once dominated island life.
There are island songs, Mendelssohn’s Hebridean Overture, and blasts of contemporary anthems by Mull Historical Society; and if the overall effect is more jocular than profound, it’s also a memorably vivid 21st century vision of island life, rooted in a startling past and a mind-blowing future, and on bare nodding terms with the banalities of the present day.
Conventional religiosity also receives some sharp criticism in Barry Reed’s 1980 novel The Verdict, most famous for the 1982 Sidney Lumet film version starring Paul Newman. The subject here is a cover-up of medical malpractice in a hospital run by the all-powerful Boston diocese of the Catholic Church.
It’s interesting, now, to watch this drama through the prism of subsequent child abuse scandals, as hard-drinking washed-up lawyer Frank Galvin becomes irresistibly drawn into the case of a young mother who has been reduced to a vegetative state by the administration of the wrong anaesthetic during childbirth.
In Middle Ground Theatre’s impressive touring production – featuring a cast of 15, some oddly misplaced Scottish folk songs on the soundtrack and fine Boston stage sets by Michael Lunney – Ian Kelsey turns in a compelling performance as Galvin, with Denis Lill in fine form as his elderly advisor and assistant Moe Katz; and if some of the acting further down the cast is less convincing, Lunney’s production nonetheless tells this grand, filmic story in some style, and keeps the audience enthralled, throughout.
If the 1980s in Massachusetts saw stirrings of rebellion against a powerful church establishment, then over on the west coast there were other rebellions in progress; notably a resistance – all too familiar to Edinburgh audiences now – to the redevelopment and gentrification of parts of Los Angeles which had become the home of a vital rock scene, featuring bands like Motley Crue, Poison and Guns’N’Roses.
Rock Of Ages, which returns to the Playhouse this week, is a jokey, slightly over-self-conscious 2005 musical about the 1987 fight to save a fictional Sunset Strip club and venue called the Bourbon Room from demolition, featuring a high-camp narrator called Lonny (played with zest by Lucas Rush), a love-story between young rocker Drew and aspiring actress Sherrie, and a crafty but lovable ageing venue-owner, Dennis, a charmingly sandpaper-voiced Kevin Kennedy.
A five-piece onstage band helps the 18-strong cast deliver rousing versions of 80s hits ranging from We Built This City to The Final Countdown; and if the framing of the evil developers as a pair of goose-stepping Germans is now just too tired and improbable to be funny, the audience are far too happy to care, just so long as the beat goes on.