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Theatre Review: McGonagall's Chronicles ****

Joy Watters reviews a 'moving and hilarious' tribute.

It was a pure McGonagall fest at the Rep on Saturday night. Writer and performer Gary McNair brought the Bard of the Silvery Tay to life in front of an enthusiastic home crowd with a tribute by turns moving and hilarious. McNair has honed his script to echo the idiosyncratic style and surprising rhymes of McGonagall.

First staged as part of the A Play, A Pie & A Pint season at Glasgow’s Oran Mor, the play is directed by Joe Douglas, former associate director at the Rep. He and McNair work together to create a portrayal of McGonagall which does not miss the pathos of one man’s perseverance in the face of widespread abuse.

Dundee’s own bard has been described as the worst poet in the English language, but while he may not be your choice or mine, he has been remembered for a very long time.

Irish by birth, the Bard first worked as a Dundee weaver then turned to acting before poetry. McGonagall’s self-belief had early roots, evidenced in McNair’s hilarious re-enactment of the famous occasion when he played Macbeth but refused to die.

McNair is accompanied by actor/musician Brian O’Sullivan and Simon Liddell of Indie band Frightened Rabbit who has woven strands of traditional Dundee mill songs into his score for this bittersweet portrait.

For poet McGonagall, it all began in 1877 when he sent his poem Address to the Rev George Gilfillan to local publication The Weekly News. He was banned from performing in Dundee, hoaxed into going to London and walked to Balmoral where Queen Victoria refused to see him. Nothing daunted, he went to Edinburgh where he died a pauper 25 years later.

The story of the poet/performer is just perfect for the stage.

McGonagall’s Chronicles has completed its run at Oran Mor and Dundee Rep. It performs at the Traverse until Saturday April 7.

Tags: theatre

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