Browse reviews

FringeReview Scotland 2015

O is for Houlet

Ishbel McFarlane

Genre: Solo Show

Venue: The Arches


Low Down

Ishbel has a task which is to give us a short run through of why the language of our birth is so important from the perspectives of more than the kailyard to reach beyond a cosy fire. Ishbel meets us as we enter, providing us with the opportunity of some interaction. Just how interactive this piece happens to be is quickly established as it is a series of questions, written by Ishbel, answered by Ishbel as Ishbel and others, that take us on an inward journey which illuminates the aspects off the language that are culturally vital. It has a whimsical feel that leads us to the conclusion that Ishbel is more than just fiercely quiet but also vocally proud.


Ishbel is a reflective and confident host. She is also a pretty guid chanter and speirs a guid argument. The context of the show is that Ishbel wishes us to reflect on why Scots, as mair than a leid, is vital for our cultural future. Taking a number of cultural Scots icons and linguistic heavyweights along with her she sketches a show round her need to take us with her. She does so with a gentle and persuasive tone and discussion which is odd yet comforting. This comes from the audience members reading out her questions, prompted onstage and then she answers. The context takes us through why language comes from within, why Scots has been down trodden, why O is for houlet and whether she shall come in ben the hoose.

It could be argued that any one woman show depends upon one woman to carry it. Ishbel is able to do that with poise, grace and an ability to comprehend how awkward comedy can be uplifting and pretty helpful in engaging with us as an audience. Her timing was impeccable and ability to keep us waiting for her next awkward moment a key marker in the progress of the piece. Her ability to draw in other cultural figures was perhaps less successful. When they were Scots they were truly well drawn; when from other cultures less convincing. The thing was – when Ishbel used the language of her heart it was indeed authentic.

The success for that one woman must spring form the script and to be fair the script was a little all over the place which helped with the charm but at times I found it hard to keep on track. As a Scots speaker – aye mair at hame than ither places – I was already on board. What did work with the script was how it answered a number of questions – particularly why a show about Scots was delivered chiefly in the Inglis dialect.

The set was functional and gave us a lot of clues as to the overall academic nature of the piece. It worked and the numbers appearing on screen as well as the song from her maw that she gave us again at the end as herself was an effective method of telling a very personal and very true story with great charm and effectiveness.

The issue for me was not that I was hopeful of the definitive piece on Scots. Heaven forfend. This needed to be another example of why we ought to be looking more closely at the language through our own eyes. The issue for me was theatrical. When you are asked for participation at the beginning, given a pencil and a piece of card, asked to write a questions, tuck it under yer bahooky and then only one gets answered I feel a wee bitty cheated.

That having been said as I scrieve in Inglis and no in ma leid ava, perhaps that irony is replicated here and also in reviews and scrievins abbot the piece elsewhaur. In the year after the referendum to continue the conversation about how we culturally mark who we are and what comes next for the whole of us feels more than right; it feels like destiny. This may have been a whimsical and light piece, not given to fiery dialectic but the lessons to be taught, the message delivered and the verve and vitality on show was about a massive topic – culturally for me the most important. Ishbel McFarlane has found a stage upon which to deliver the lecture, I look forward to the stage show that takes us a step or twa further.


Show Website

Ishbel McFarlane