FringeReview UK 2023
McKay is even-handed, and very funny. And don’t you just love a ghost in 1985 who’s never heard of Margaret Thatcher?
Written by John McKay, Directed by Liz Carruthers, Set and Costume Designer Alex Marker, Lighting Designer Rachel Sampley, Sound Designer Julian Starr.
Stage Manager Deb Waters, General Manager Ellie Renfrew and Caitlin Carr, ASM Maddy D-Houston.
Thanks the Tron Theatre development cast Paul Gorman and George Docherty, Andy Arnold and the Tron Theatre Glasgow; Sarah Mitchell and Robin McKie; Simon and Caroline Mark; Zachary Fall and Nadia Elisabeth; Playwrights Studio, Scotland.
Till October 28th
The Finborough’s moved from its historical revival season to a very different period. Thatcher’s been on the throne six years. But Live Aid is happening because so much else isn’t, including successful strikes. When John McKay’s early play Dead Dad Dog – directed here by Liz Caruthers – burst onto the theatre scene transferring to the Royal Court in 1985, it presaged a blisteringly funny new writing talent.
Quite unlike any around in the 1980s in fact, which usually took its bleakness rather too seriously. Think that year’s magnificent elegy of rage, despair and defiance Edge of Darkness. But Edge of Darkness’s TV territory was where McKay was headed, as screenwriter and director, and theatre’s loss has been their immeasurable gain.
Returning to those roots McKay decided for this revival to present Dead Dad Dog with a sequel, Sunny Boy, set in Glasgow (unlike the 1985 Edinburgh) 2023. Very sadly, Sunny Boy was cancelled and we’re left with 67 minutes of posthumous embarrassment.
Eck (Angus Miller) has a serious ambitions (he’s 24, why wouldn’t he be serious?), dressing himself for a BBC Scotland interview. He wants to be a producer presenting cutting-edge content to liven up the entertaining-ourselves-to-death-syndrome he sees as symptomatic of BBC TV. Unfortunately for him, the ghost of the 1970s BBC’s Entertainment troupe turns up in his flat-share instead. The empire strikes back.
Well not quite the BBC. Eck’s father Willie (Liam Brennan) died in 1973, but what’s that got to do with style? A good deal as Alex Marker’s set (a vivid backdrop collage of cuttings and a single chair, that’s it and alluringly funny costumes (wide lapel check, swankier than sensible 80s-boy jackets) are wished upon Eck.
To pumping period music – Julian Starr’s sound – Rachel Sampley’s lighting projects subtitles and altogether makes something special of the space (her recent work for Compositor E at the Omnibus is one of the two or three most innovative lighting designs of the year).
Miller and Brennan haven’t talked since Eck was 12, for good reason. The trouble is, Willie doesn’t get it. Why isn’t Eck overjoyed to see him? An electric shock-fence every time Eck tries to step outside Willie’s radius has huge consequnces. Even shyly taking a bath (“seen it all before” ‘not recently”) but worse follows.
Because Willie though dead isn’t a figment of Eck’s imagination, but the whole of Scotland. Everyone can see him. Eck even has to pay for his dead dad on the bus (40p, those were the days).
And making Willie a maintanence engineer who happens to turn up at the interview and interrupt every time Eck tries to promote his working-class credentials doesn’t really help. Julian Critchley (shurely shome mistake, but no, that’s the MP’s name used!) and his chuckling mandarin chums at the BBC panel certainly find Willie the only amusing thing about Eck’s earnest propial. “Told you” says Willie at the Post Mortem (helpfully flicked up by Sampley).
And there’s worse. The culture shift between wannabe working-class 1985 and toiling Thatcher-shop-class 1973 is heading for a burn at the pan as broccoli and crème freche take unkindly to neglect as Eck answers the call to his wannabe girlfriend. Cue getting Dad togged into acceptable Back-to-the-Future gear, and a haircut!
Despite Belgian bar jokes and not being able to move more than a few feet from each other Eck and Willie as it were, rub along, even at the club (Eck spots an£3 entrance ticket). But no oldies. No probs, Willie knows the bouncer.
And after? When Rosalie wants to come home with Eck? And how long will Willie hang around? And what will Eck feel?
We might have found out even more if Sunny Boy wasn’t cancelled. Though there’s a 25-year-rule about recycling plays at the Finborough, I think we’d all enjoy both works rapturously when in conjunction with each other. Please bring them both back.
The actors are both consummate and have a palpable chemistry. As it is, Miller’s permanent flinch, his shift from exasperation through anger through (always ) squirm and back to an elegiac sense at the end, are complemented by Brennan’s consummate Scottish wide-boy father. The unreliable kind of man who manages to die young because he was so spectacularly bad at looking after himself, and others.
Yet his critiques hit home. McKay is even-handed, and very funny. And don’t you just love a ghost in 1985 who’s never heard of Margaret Thatcher?