Edinburgh Fringe 2015
There’s a Ned on the loose in the university library, just as Morningside Malcolm’s daughter Jennifer is about to attend her graduation ceremony. Cue a lock-down as this threat to the middle classes is rooted out. But what’s this that’s caught Malcolm’s eye? A dissertation on “The A to Z of Loving a Ned”? What’s that all about then?
Robin Cairns first brought his alter ego, Morningside Malcolm, to the Fringe in 2011 for a week at a very small venue. He’s popped up in a number of very interesting places since but this year’s, in the stunningly beautiful Arthur Conan Doyle Centre in the leafy surroundings of Palmerston Place, oozes charm and a level of sophistication that any Malcolm would deem appropriate. What better place to try and connect the unique psyche of upper-class Edinburgh man with his somewhat earthier compatriot from Glasgow, the Weegie.
For those of you that haven’t been around these past four years, a summary of the plot so far. Malcolm lives in Morningside. He’s allergic to Leith and is such a wimp that he’s at risk from getting whiplash blowing the froth off his (free) café latte in Waitrose. So you can imagine his horror when, two years ago, his only daughter Jennifer married a Weegie. And not just any old Weegie, but the son of Big Urquie, someone he thought he’d left behind at St Abbs Junior School in the underdeveloped far west.
For Malcolm, it was a step too far. After all, it was a mixed marriage – bride from Edinburgh, groom from Glasgow. Two years on and Jennifer is about to graduate from one of Scotland’s leading universities. On the day of the ceremony, Malcolm is like a cat on a hot tin roof as he glances in passing at the various student dissertations on display. But what’s this that’s caught his eye? “The A to Z of Loving a Ned” – what on earth is that all about?
To describe this year’s plot as labyrinthine does it an injustice given that it contains four or five interwoven threads, each with several characters which all come together in a surprising and extremely amusing denouement at the end of an hour’s show that was more like a one-man spectacular than a bloke spinning a yarn.
Cairns’ definition of his characters is extremely precise and consistent. The Ned, Lee-Ann (Big Urquie’s ten-bob tart of a wife), Big Urquie himself, Kate (Malcolm’s long suffering wife) and of course the eponymous Morningsider himself each have distinct accents, mannerisms and phraseology which ensures that we always know just where we are and who is doing what to whom. And that wonderful little man from Pilton continues to make cameo appearances throughout the show.
There is much, rich material to admire as a stream of one-liners and parodies are skilfully woven around the plot itself and you feel that you’ve met, or at least know by sight, all of the characters who feature in it – some you’d cross the road to avoid, others remind you alarmingly of yourself.
So, did Jennifer graduate? And who or what inspired the dissertation that caught Malcolm’s eye? Who wrote it? And who is the Ned at the centre of the whole story? I’m saying nothing. But do watch out for that little man from Pilton.
This show comes highly recommended for anyone with even a slight interest in the Scot’s psyche. And when the audience stays behind afterwards, swopping notes on what’s happened, reliving previous stories and speculating on what the next instalment (in 2016) will contain, you know that the artist has nailed it.