Theatre review: Tightlaced Theatre double-bill

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PERHAPS it’s the intensity of the tourist trade that passes along the Royal Mile outside; but the Scottish Storytelling Centre seems, these days, to be promoting a line in Scottish historical drama with a distinctly traditional look.

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh

Rating: * * / * * *

Review: Joyce McMillan

At first glance, this double-bill of plays from Edinburgh’s young Tightlaced Theatre seems to fit the pattern, as a three-strong company busk their way through Charlie And My ‘45, a flat-footed interlude, accompanied by melodramatic Hollywood-style music, that comes across like a pitch for a bad costume movie about a young Scottish soldier caught up in the Jacobite Rebellion.

Fiona McDonald’s I Promise I Shall Not Play Billiards, by contrast, explores more interesting theatrical territory, as it reflects on the inner life of notorious alleged Glasgow murderess Madeleine Smith, following the 1857 verdict of “not proven” on the charge that she poisoned her secret lover. On stage are four women wearing huge, stiff Victorian crinolines, moving in a strange dance, to wild piano music. Each represents as aspect of Madeleine, from the childlike and sensual to the angry and cruel.

The 40-minute play depends heavily on long monologues, all of which seem a shade repetitive. But the idea is strong; and the play has plenty to say about the lives of women – then and now – who have too much energy, passion and self-possession to fit easily into any of the categories that the world tries to impose on them.