Christine Mackie, Shuna Snow and Isabel Ford.

Whisky Galore

Belgrade Theatre


George Bernard Shaw once remarked that Englishmen always seemed to one whisky under par. It seems Scotsmen are just the same.

Compton Mackenzie’s well-known book, turned into a well-loved Ealing Comedy, was based on a true story. In this production, seven women play the 26 characters that people the tale.

The islands of Little Todday and Great Todday, one catholic, one protestant, are islands separated by a tiny strip of sea and attitudes to the Sabbath but united in Spring 1943 by a serious and life-threatening dearth of whisky. Even the ale is rationed to half a pint a day. It’s not going well.

Three weddings are on the cards, and whisky is vital to celebrate. Into this circumstance, one foggy night, the HMS Cabinet Minister runs aground with 60,000 cases of best whisky in its hold. The family of Captain Paul Waggert (Isabel Ford) plus Dolly his wife (Alicia McKenzie) and Paddy their dog (Joey Parsad) stand almost alone against the oncoming moral onslaught as the unguarded whisky gradually disappears into homes deprived for so long.

Everyone else including timid schoolteacher George Campbell (Aileen McCormack), terrorised by his unbending mother (Christine Mackie) but determined to marry Catriona Macleod (Joey Parsad) goes with the flow and has cupboards, lofts and sheds well stocked ready for the celebrations.  

The trick of having a knowledgeable narrator (Sally Armstrong) ostensibly putting on a show to tell the tale helps pull a complex story together but doesn’t always provide enough direction as to who is who in a confusingly large array of characters where the actors play so many parts – and occasionally get it wrong – at one point TWO Annag’s appear on stage! Sally Armstrong also plays Father Macalister, a ‘portly priest’ and it’s a joyous performance.

This is an enjoyable production with some very hard-working actors telling a complex tale as well as being masters of disguise. I had a cold and was right at the back and, together with the soft Scottish accents, found it hard to hear. I enjoyed the gentle malapropisms ‘I thank you for your hostility’ says Waggert to his host at one point. I also enjoyed the rich language which added to the physicality of the piece.

Directed by Kevin Shaw this Oldham Coliseum, Hull Truck and New Vic Theatres’ production runs to 23-06-18.

Jane Howard


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