Theatre review: Margaret Saves Scotland, Oran Mor, Glasgow

Margaret of Scotland at Oran Mor
Margaret of Scotland at Oran Mor
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Out of the desert of silence in Scottish theatre about the two great issues of the hour - independence and Brexit - a brief blip of political comedy emerges, courtesy of the great crime novelist Val McDermid.

Margaret Saves Scotland, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

It’s a strange little play McDermid has written, for the Play, Pie And Pint lunchtime season; a kind of Ealing comedy set around 1960, with just a hint of a final flash-forward.

Yet it boldly goes where no other playwright is currently willing to travel, into the question of why Scotland should - or should not - be an independent country; and it views the subject through the eyes of one Margaret, a young Yorkshire lass aged 11 who goes to Scotland on holiday, falls in love with the place, and decides - with the help of a few history books - that the nation of her dreams has been ill done to, and ought to break free.

It’s a romantic Jacobite-style passion, based on a vague feeling that Scots are virtuous and heroic compared with their wily oppressors; and it does not find favour with Margaret’s Dad, who thinks the Scots are “bloody lucky” to be treated “exactly the same as we are here in Yorkshire”, and grounds Margaret until she gets over it.

So she stows away in the back of a Scotland-bound lorry, emerging somewhere in Angus; only to find, to her dismay, that the locals are not much keener on Scottish independence than her Dad, and strongly believe that she should go home.

It’s a tale, in other words, both daft and poignant; and it ends with a shamelessly sentimental vision of the opening of the new Scottish Parliament, 40 years on in 1999.

What it has in its favour, though, is its light-touch, witty handling of what’s currently a difficult theme for divided Scotland, and a magically deft and inventive production by Marilyn Imrie, featuring poignant background footage of family journeys in the 1950’s, and three delicious pitch-perfect performances from Tori Burgess as Margaret, and Clare Waugh and Simon Donald as the full range of grown-ups. There are songs and soliloquies and plenty of belly-laughs; and if the whole show seems a little like one of Oran Mor’s well-turned spoofs on a famous classic movie - well, perhaps that’s not accidental; in a tale that’s not so much passport to Pimlico, as freedom ride to Forfar, and back again.

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, today until Saturday; Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 24-28 April.