Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Tommy McMillan has made a career out of being unemployed. So he’s the ideal candidate to spearhead the Department of Social Inclusion’s initiative to reintegrate the long-term unemployed into the labour force. But they didn’t reckon on a complete mismatch between where they want Tommy to go and the grandiose possibilities that he sees in his new role.
Tommy McMillan believes that “compassion has gone doon the shite hole” and that the bastards in the Department of Social Inclusion simply don’t understand his position. His career has been one of twenty eight years full-time unemployment. “All ma life, I’ve been guid for nothing”, he proclaims.
But it’s this that makes Tommy the ideal candidate for inclusion in the new Departmental initiative – showing how the long term unemployed can be guided back into the mainstream. The trouble is, Tommy’s role within the Department consists of filling in forms telling officials what he is filling in forms for. And he thinks he’s capable of much more than that.
Iain Heggie’s piece is loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman, the portrait of a small-time office clerk and his ultimate descent into madness. First seen shortly after the opening in 2000 of the Scottish Parliament, it has been brought up to date with references to bankers, asylum seekers, the Big Society and the rise of the SNP to become the party of power. The monologue looks at life from Tommy’s side of the fence, with him very much the outsider looking in but evidently someone that those inside clearly want to keep out.
But what starts off as a penetrating and biting satirical attack on the fondness of Scotland’s governing classes for platitude and political correctness descends all too quickly into a bewildering and discursive exploration of letter writing dogs, flying taxis, posh totty falling at his feet and the belief that an MSP has offered him the chance to become King of Scotland.
No doubt the intent of this is to chart Tommy’s slide down the slope of sanity but the effect it achieved was one of audience bewilderment. Gradually the laughter died away and was replaced by a quizzical silence. As a result, King of Scotland ends up falling between two stools – it’s not consistently funny enough to be classed as a comedy but it is too bawdy to be considered as a serious piece of drama.
But what makes it still worth a look is the strong performance from Jonathan Watson in the title role. Whilst he is perhaps better known for his abilities as an impersonator in a multitude of TV series, he trained initially as an actor at RSAMD. Here, he successfully conveyed that brashness and bravura often evident in a Weegie down on his luck and his grasp and delivery of that unique patois that is Glasgow’s was quite brilliant, extracting humour and meaning from the vibrant language he had been given by Heggie to bring to life. Yet he also portrayed Tommy’s descent into delusion with touching sensitivity and realism. Just a pity we were all left scratching our heads at the end, wondering what it was all about.