Theatre reviews: Scots | Catch Me If You Can

Oran Mor’s season of lunchtime theatre comes to a memorable end with Scots, a left-field musical comedy about Scotland and its history, writes Joyce McMillan

Scots PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Scots PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Scots, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

Catch Me If You Can, Theatre Royal, Glasgow **

It’s been an extraordinary Spring Season at A Play, A Pie And A Pint in Glasgow. Twenty weeks, 20 plays from all over Scotland, and not a single one lost to Covid, despite one or two performances cancelled; and what’s more, many of them have been outstanding pieces of work, ranging from Peter McDougall’s wild Byres Road street opera The Ticket Meister at the beginning, to Maryam Hamdi’s powerful refugee story The Words near the end, and including memorable shows by DC Jackson, Rob Drummond, Douglas Maxwell and David Ireland, among others.

Scots PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

So it’s fitting that this exuberant season should end with a memorably left-field musical comedy about Scotland and its history, Scots, powerfully written by Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie of Noisemaker, and performed by a joyous nine-strong company of young emerging stars, led by Spuds star Richard Conlon, and multi-talented Alaskan Scot Tyler Collins. Those who like to see Scotland’s story handled with respect, rather than cheerfully sent up, might be distressed to hear that Collins plays the part of an ancient toilet, gradually updated from hole in the ground to sleek porcelain luxury as distinguished Scottish bottoms find their way to it down the ages; and Scots is certainly not a show for those who dislike lavatorial humour.

The truth is, though, that in Gilmour and Mackenzie’s take on Scotland’s story, jokery about medieval kings and Victorian inventors gradually gives way to something more purposeful, as women emerge from the ladies’ room to assert their place in Scottish intellectual and public life, and the gay community finally comes out of the water-closet to celebrate a new age of freedom. In this final spring 2022 production by Play, Pie And Pint boss Jemima Levick, the music is grand, the singing is terrific (not least by Richard Conlon in excellent voice, and Lauren Ellis-Steele as the great Scottish woman mathematician Mary Somerville), and the ensemble work is memorable, particularly in big liberation anthems like the women’s I Don’t Need Your Approval, and the anti-period-poverty song We Don’t Talk About It.

The show has little or nothing to say about Scotland’s current constitutional dilemmas, beyond noting that Scotland itself was originally formed, 1,200 years ago, of smaller warring nations that thought they might be “better together”. What it does say, though, loud and clear, is that Scotland is at its best, and its most capable of moving forward, when its people show maximum love, respect and tolerance for each other; and the roars of approval from the Oran Mor audience, as the show ends, suggests they could hardly agree more.

There are also roars of approval – and even a small but heartfelt standing ovation – at the Theatre Royal this week, where producer Bill Kenwright’s current production of Catch Me If You Can ends its UK tour. The ovation, it’s safe to say, has nothing to do with the play, which is one of those daft and creaky thrillers with a twist in the tale so sharp that it makes a nonsense of the preceding two hours of drama; and everything to do with the presence on stage of Patrick Duffy, aka Bobby from Dallas, now 73 years old, and playing the role of one Daniel Corban, a man whose new wife Elizabeth has disappeared from the luxurious upstate New York hunting lodge where they were spending their honeymoon.

Catch Me If You Can

She is soon replaced, though, by another woman who claims to be Elizabeth, but whom Corban does not recognise; and Duffy turns in a decent performance as a man increasingly gaslit by everyone around him, and threatened with imminent transfer to the local mental health facility. As with Bobby’s legendary re-emergence from that South Fork shower 36 years ago, though, the final plot-twist effectively makes nonsense of the entire preceding series; and only the enduring love of those loyal Dallas fans, almost four decades on, can save this old pile of nonsense from a swift journey to the theatrical scrap-heap.

Scots at Oran Mor, Glasgow, and Catch Me If You Can at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, both until 2 July.