Edinburgh Fringe 2012
This is an out of season pantomime that is based in the truth, well apart from the fiction. Tommy Sheridan has been the iconic working class hero for the left and Ian Pattison examines the man who hit the headlines for a sex scandal, taking on the Murdoch Empire and then finding himself jailed for perjury. Tongue firmly in cheek, this tells us more about the folly of celebrity than the politics of Scotland.
I entered the Gilded Balloon for I, Tommy with Luck Be a Lady ringing out and the cast certainly follow on, giving it laldy as we are taken through the rise, rise and further rise of Tommy Sheridan before his downfall through the eyes of one of his biggest original supporters Alan McCombs. McCombs, sickened by the destruction of a party that he had supported, fought for and along with Tommy brought to Scottish prominence wrote a book in anger. Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story. It was deliberately targeted to put Tommy in the frame alongside another dictator. It charts a view of Tommy that is at times funny, respectful but then pure plain angry. Pattison has used this source material to create a drama that is irreverent and cheeky whilst making us fully aware of what Tommy became and when on the brink of greatness how he let his opportunity slip. We are guided to understand that Tommy’s downfall was of his own making. We see that from the beginning of his career Tommy was a magnet for the women, hen pecked by his wife and saw the truth through the prism lense of the working class struggle. Allegedly.
Pattison is a fine writer. Anyone who brought the complexities of the Govan sage, Rab C Nesbitt to our attention in such a crafted style has to be lauded. He has the ear of the working class patios and the intelligence to understand that flawed characters are not one dimensional. This is a witty piece of theatre but it should be after all, the subject matter is rich in pantomime. It may not be as high camp as Christmas but there is more sense in cross dressing adults at the Playhouse than in the antics and denials of Tommy in this piece. And yet there is genuine affection for Sheridan. Allegedly he has not had the strength to pop along and see the play. If he can laugh at himself then it would be worth his while.
Sheridan is played by Des McLean who is spot on. This is a character with mair swagger than Jagger after ten pints o lager. Mclean has impersonated Sheridan before as a comedian and the skin of Sheridan is easily inhabited by McLean. What we get is an affectionate portrayal that is part buffoon, part Machiavellian but wholesale bluster. The problem though with the rest of the characters is apart from McCombs as a sympathetic narrator, the rest of the principals in this drama are pretty caricature driven. In particular I would suggest if Tommy comes to see the show he does so alone. Gail will not be chuffed. It will take more than a Yum Yum to keep her happy ever after. There were also issues with lines fluffed and microphones buzzing which didn’t help you feel overly comfortable.
The staging is basic and for any drama of socialist politicians I suppose so it should be. Like an ever present backdrop the setting is of a meeting, THAT meeting at which Tommy denied being at a swinger’s club or admitted being at a swinger’s club – you choose.
This production attempts to unravel one of the most complex dramas ever to unfold on the Scottish political landscape. It does so with gusto. The issue for those of us who are merely observers of this stage is that the real life drama is yet to complete itself. There will be some who will question why we are seeing a comedy when reality has been nothing short of a tragedy. The investigation of how the iconic figure of the left that is Sheridan brought the left in Scotland to its knees having been the figure head and the most creditable left wing politician of many generations needs to be examined. It doesn’t get examined here. What it gets is an airing and a production that is funny at points, hilarious at others but never goes deeper than a paper cut even with razor sharp wit. But it never pretended it would so I am not one to complain.
Like many political observers I watched the Tommy Sheridan show in the news weekly and nightly. To see some of the most memorable moments played out upon the stage was delightful. I think that, with real people, their depiction may come back to haunt you quicker than Feisty Spice’s miniature laughter.
It is therefore a piece of theatre worth going to see but the real shows, due back in the Courts, may be even funnier or far more pantomime than this. But by that time this will be behind you!