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Edinburgh Fringe 2023


Action Theatre Scotland

Genre: Comedy, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose


Low Down

It’s 2014 and the weans are getting to vote in a referendum to decide whether Scotland shall be an independent country. The government have decided that the 16 year olds get a say. And so, we find ourselves at Alba High where the tensions are high enough without ladling the politics on top. We have a teaching marriage of the Lindales with newly qualified Mrs., taking advantage of musical husband Mr. when designing her history lessons. There are the classmates with Craig coming to terms with a family member suffering dementia, and his best pal Paul coming to terms with his parents being divided over the referendum, falling out with his big pal Craig, and finding his newfound liberty in a newfound relationship with Carol. We also get the class swot, Peter, who has the archetypal look of the curtain hair and the uptight hankering after any teacher he values. It leads us to see the run up to the vote, with Peter finding things serious for a time, his parents, Susan and Frank managing to agree to disagree, and the referendum being reflected back on 9 years later in a future sequence which is actually now.


The greatest value of Alba is in its balance. This is quite rare amongst shows or any polemic with regards to the referendum from 2014. You either get the piece rallying against everyone for voting No or the Better Together side don’t’ usually get much of a look in. Here we get a balance and curiosity. It also helps that we do not get to know which of the young people voted yes or no. That allows us to walk away from an enquiry into the whole thing rather than some piece of theatre that could be claimed to be propaganda.

Directorially, this has some nice wee moments in it and combined with some sharp wit, gives us a believable classroom in an authentic school environment and with the right level of bad language – yes this is a typical Scottish Secondary School in a working class area.

The use of an ensemble makes that work really well and despite there not being a name attached to each cast member, you do get a sense of there being a chorus of individuals that support rather than a collective group of people who are an anonymous part of the show. That worked well.

Performances were strong but variable and at times there was a lack of real build towards a climax. It could be argued that Craig’s meltdown was well handled but the build towards it needs a little more subtlety as we have a very capable actor. Similarly, Peter feels like he fell out the Bash Street Kids and given the way that most of this is balanced that could have been better handled. Overall, however, this is a strong enough cast.

What also does not work well is the music. Either amplify both or bring down the volume of the backing tracks. It leads to actors in search of a right note, often ending up hitting wrong ones and you can see the effect of that onstage which is not a great look.

A judicious prune of the script would also help as there are parts of it which could do with some cutting. It comes across as a long piece of theatre and though you never lose interest it has some bits which add some value, but not enough as it stands, to merit the amount of attention and time given.

Overall, this has a great deal going for it, not least of all the usual fare that is trundled out, it has originality at its heart. It sits not too far away from being a definitive piece of work as we could do with some balance just now. Scotland has always been able to polarise itself, be it through football, Miners’ Strikes or the referendum. Division is never healthy and what Alba has done is give us something to hold onto to say that this might not be an inevitable state of affairs. For that we should be grateful.