The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham; Friday 16th March, 2018
In February 1941, whilst battling gale force winds and the hidden menace of German submarines, a cargo ship heading for New Orleans ran aground off a small island in the Outer Hebrides.
The crew escaped unharmed and were temporarily taken in by locals who came to their aid. But when news spread that the wreck upon their shores was bearing 28,000 cases of malt whisky, the islanders began a series of daring salvage operations – motivated partly by a chronic shortage of alcohol thanks to the strict rules of war-time rationing.
The story of the wreck and subsequent looting became the basis of a hit novel and eventually an even more popular Ealing comedy – Whisky Galore.
Oldham Coliseum’s adaptation of Whisky Galore is heavily shaped by not just one true story but two. Instead of being a direct portrayal of the original events, the performance is instead set in the 1950s and and depicts an all-female theatre troupe delivering proceedings. As such, it is a play within a play, a direct tribute to the real-life Osiris Players – an intrepid troupe of performing ladies who toured across the country between the 1920s and the 1960s.
The result is an impressive feat of theatrical delivery, with nearly 30 different characters being portrayed by just 7 performers. The on-stage action is frantic and fast-paced, the set is constantly shifted and reassembled as the action is moved from one scene to another. Context is regularly set by an on-stage narration, though at times this method seemed to interrupt the flow of entertainment rather than enhance it.
Whisky Galore shines brightest during the scenes of comedy. The entertainment takes on an almost slapstick quality as the cunning locals resort to ever more fiendish subterfuge in order to stifle the posh investigators from London who become ever more desperate in their vain search for the missing haul of liquor.
From a play-writing perspective Whisky Galore comes across as quite confusing. The all-female concept is a perfectly good one and yields multiple moments of genuine comedy but delivering the piece through the lens of a fictional 1950s all-female theatre troupe seems to bury the underlying story (which is by far the stronger vehicle for delivering a performance). It would have been far better to just have 7 female leads delivering this brilliant story of shipwrecks and illicit liquor.
Nevertheless, Whisky Galore is a light-hearted and jovial night of entertainment that is guaranteed to fire the imagination and leave the audience wondering exactly what they’d do if they knew they could get away with it.
|Visual pleasure||A large map formed the backdrop to the stage, very useful for understanding what was happening and where. The on-stage set was mobile and transformed multiple times to reflect each scene. The use of props was amusing, especially the driving and sailing scenes which were a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the low-tech special effects of the 1950s theatre world.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||The fake Scottish accents became a little irritating towards the end. It began to get too close to laughing at the accent itself, instead of laughing at the jokes and the circumstances being portrayed.||2|
|Architecture & Theme||The pace was a little too quick, scene changes felt rushed. The added layer of 1950s nostalgia seemed to detract from a strong underlying story, rather than add to it.||2|
|Artistic delivery||Excellent performances all round. In several cases, the amusing idosynchracies of individual characters became memorable despite the fact that the actors were portraying 4 or 5 characters each.||4|
|Overall impact||Being familiar with the original story, this particular adaptation seemed to be a watered down version that seemed to lack some of the intrigue and romance. It felt it became more about the fictional 1950s theatre troupe. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining and amusing spectacle.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|