Writer: Robert Dawson Scott
Director: Rob Jones
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys[rating:5]
Robert Dawson Scott has spent the last 25 years as a stalwart of the Scottish arts scene: as journalist; TV producer; founder of the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS); critic and now playwright. The Great Train Race, his first play, produced here for Òran Mór’s Autumn/Winter season, is an ebullient caper based upon the real-life rivalry between the two great north-south rail companies, Caledonian and North British.
It’s 1895 and the battle is on to be the fastest thing on rails between London and Aberdeen. On one side North British, travelling the east coast; with a shorter route, flatter terrain and bigger trains, and on the other Caledonian, travelling the west; with a longer route, undulating hills, but the fastest engines and an even faster attitude on how to win the race.
Dawson Scott’s fact-filled romp manages to be both highly informative as well as hugely entertaining; large on facts but even larger on laughs. It plays well to this west of Scotland audience’s rivalry with its east coast neighbours, so well in fact, that it took no prompting to elicit pantomime boos at the mere mention of the word Edinburgh. The success of the piece though, isn’t solely due the playwright’s fine ear for comedy and knowledge of his audience, but the skill of this hugely accomplished cast.
Joyce Falconer bears the weight of conveying the historical detail of the play, playing as she does the Kinnaber signal box (yes, you read that correctly) and does so with great charm. The script also allows Falconer to showcase her fine skill at storytelling in the Scots tongue. As mild-mannered, North British company man and Cammie’s son, Grant O’Rourke is utterly charming and as west coast engineer Cammie and also Norrie’s wife, Iain Robertson, one of Scotland’s finest dramatic actors, gets to demonstrate his sharply-honed comedy skills. The chemistry and camaraderie between the two actors is a real treat to watch.
The whole piece from writing to performance is shot through with an energy and exuberance that makes for an utterly joyous, escapist afternoon at the theatre. There are genuine belly laughs throughout and a history lesson there too for those who like to learn something new. Thoroughly recommended, catch it if you can.
Touring to the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen from 24th to 28th September
Photo credit: Leslie Black