EFR - Reviews of The Villains, The Vote and The Black, Black Oil

The Villains, The Vote and The Black, Black Oil

Mon 18th – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Rowena Henley

at 10:38 on 19th Aug 2014

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Caught Red Handed, the theatre company behind Monday night’s production, took on the difficult challenge of contemporizing John McGrath’s 1973 play The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil, which explores tensions between Scottish people and politics. The cast performed to a packed-out venue of spectators keen to learn more about this topical subject. However, I would have to say that topicality is about the only thing that justified this performance as a Fringe-worthy show.

The Villains, The Vote and The Black, Black Oil never quite found its feet in terms of style. It was difficult to tell whether Caught Red Handed were presenting us with a documentary, a realistic piece of theatre or a pantomime. The performers themselves seemed a little confused, slipping in and out of their characters constantly as though attempting metatheatricality. This was especially destablising when enacted by our narrator who, rather than remaining a neutral chronicler, would occasionally show us a pantomime-esque reaction to was what unfolding onstage.

The attempt to combine historical re-telling’s and musical numbers worked well at points, with some witty writing and humorous deliveries, but on the whole was not particularly thrilling. There was an unfortunate sense of ‘been there, done that’. However, you would never know this from the audience reaction. The cheers and laughs were never ending. I would perhaps question whether this was down to the Scottish patrons (who made up the majority of the audience) feeling roused by national pride rather than being bowled over by the quality of performance.

The singing was very strained at moments and the acting was markedly amateurish. Nonetheless, if the show’s main purpose was to inform than I would have to commend the cast and crew for having condensed and simplified information that would have otherwise been extremely hard to digest. I would also commend the team for presenting us with notably unbiased content. I was worried upon arrival (having seen a Scottish flag hung at the back of the stage) that we were going have to endure an hour of dogmatism, but we were presented with the faults of all parties involved.

I found the audience interaction worked well. The writing was cleverly structured to ensure that the spectators were fully engaged with the action onstage. The fate of the ‘workers’ was somewhat in our hands during one scene set at an oil rig on strike. But again, it was hard to tell whether the audience’s passion was inherent or down to the influence of artful script writing.

Overall, The Villains, The Vote and The Black, Black Oil was not a terrible experience. But I would give it a miss if you are at the Fringe festival for high class performances rather than well-researched history lessons.

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Alex Woolley

at 10:41 on 19th Aug 2014

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The Villains, the Vote, and the Black, Black Oil is not a play. It is in particular not a musical. It is not really comparable to anything – perhaps a lecture series on capitalism and history, where the lecturers like to make un-nuanced points about their subjects, and attempt to burst into song, fettered only by a lack of ability to sing and write lyrics. If this is the sort of thing that floats your boat, you are in for an absolute tidal wave of fun. Otherwise, steer clear.

Narrated, and with songs accompanied by a guitar, the show presents a history of Scotland from the late 70s up to the present day. It is supposedly a sequel to The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, which presents a history of Scotland from the Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century to the early seventies. So the action starts with the 1978 Scotland Act, which was meant to give the people of Scotland a referendum on devolution from the rest of the United Kingdom. But then some rather dry shenanigans about percentages took place, and it all became rather undemocratic. Thatcher sings a song about screwing people over, and suddenly the whole of the 80s and 90s are finished with. Three decades come and go, and still we have not had one bit of dramatic tension. Or anything that could be called a character. Or much ability to sing.

This brings us to the meat of the show: attacking a capitalist called Donald Trump, as if he were a pantomime villain. Fine – if the show actually were a pantomime, and there were a pantomime dame, and the audience were children. Unfortunately, the former two premises are not true, and given that the show is on at 9pm, the last is unlikely to be true, either. Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond’s TV duel gets played out – Darling’s absurdly luscious eyebrows are among the funniest aspects of the show (N.B. they are not all that funny) – and we finish with some crass statements about how unionism and nationalism can both work if they’re done well, and a diatribe against capitalism.

The Villains, the Vote, and the Black, Black Oil is not a piece of theatre. Why it is presented as such, I cannot hope to understand.

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