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Theatre Review: Union (***)

Michael Cox reviews a production that starts great but loses its way.

Union, which is premiering at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, is a witty, fast-paced play telling the story of how Scotland and England became united as one country in 1707. It is an important story told by characters both common and gentry that is filled with political intrigue while having its tongue stuck squarely in its cheek.

Well, for the first act anyway.

Unfortunately, Tim Barrow’s script completely loses its way after the interval, serving up scenes that ramble and action that is at best repetitive and at its worst too desperate and self-knowing. This is a shame because, in truth, there is much to like about Mark Thomson’s production. It’s well staged and designed, with ambitious projections and two mini-turntables on the stage to help aid the back-and-forth between England and Scotland, and the action is evenly paced with brisk moments.

It also has an excellent ensemble. Liam Brennan is great as both the slimy Duke of Queensberry and a poor Tea Salesman who gets rather abused by Irene Allan’s delicious Queen Anne. Keith Fleming, Ifan Meredith, Rebecca Palmer, Mark McDonnell, Andrew Vincent and Tony Cownie are equally impressive playing multiple roles in both countries, while Sally Reid and newcomer Josh Whitelaw are terrific as worldly prostitute Grace and earnest poet Allan Ramsay.

But even with all of that talent, one has to come back to Barrow’s script. How could a play that had such insight and balance between comedy and seriousness go so wrong in the second act? It's a shame that such great potential becomes a missed opportunity to act as a clear theatrical voice as the referendum approaches.

Union performs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre until April 12

Tags: theatre

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