|Appointment With The Wicker Man|
|Published on Saturday, 11 August 2012|
After days of reviewing in dingy basements and backwater venues, the palatial furnishings of the Assembly Rooms were enough to knock me off my feet. Upon landing on a cushioned chair (a seriously big deal at the Fringe!) the anxiety set in – what if the show can't match the surroundings? Well, I should have had no fears. Appointment with The Wicker Man, directed by and starring Greg Hemphill, is a triumph of comedic theatre that'll have you laughing literally start to finish.
fRevolving around a rehearsal by ‘The Loch Parry Players', a parochial am-dram troupe, of their production of The Wicker Man, the audience is presented with a show within a show. As a not-so-subtle mockery of the classic 70s original (which, in my opinion, is ripe for a ripping) the comedy is obvious and exaggerated - the famous seaplane introduction, portrayed with a toy on a stick shakily followed by a spotlight, set this tone from the get go. This is no criticism, however, as the crude humour never felt gratuitous and hit the right note.
The performers were excellent, each tackling their potentially hazardous double roles with real gusto. The mysterious disappearance of the actor supposed to be playing Sergeant Howie results in Rory Mulligan (Sean Biggerstaff of Harry Potter fame), a big time actor from Glasgow, taking up the lead role. This added depth and cleverness to a show which could have easily descended into nothing more than a generic parody.
Mulligan finds himself growing paranoid of his small-town peers and their potentially sinister motives - mirroring the story they themselves are rehearsing. Okay, so it's not a ground-breaking or ingenious plot move, but it added a dimension which facilitated countless hysterical happenings, and even managed to genuinely achieve some of the suspense which made the 70s movie such a hit.
Despite the unequivocal success of the production, I feel obliged to flag a few problems. Firstly, just a tad too many of the jokes rely on a knowledge of the original to get a laugh. A larger criticism though is that a few of the characters, particularly Paul Riley's village goat Fran, felt just a bit one dimensional, designed only to get slapstick laughs when the plot lulled. But get the laughs they did, which you may feel negates this gripe altogether.
With Still Game and Chewin' The Fat legend Greg Hemphill at the reins and onstage, Appointment with The Wicker Man was always going to be a rollickingly good watch - but the suspicion was that it would be a touch too crude and mindless for everybody. Instead, a clever plot (and some surprisingly good singing!) avoided full-blown inanity… crafting what, for me, is the highlight of the Fringe so far.
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