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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Whisky Kisses theatre review

Published in Northings

Whisky Kisses
Perth Theatre, 14 May 2010, and touring

YOU'VE GOT to salute the determination of the Whisky Kisses team. They’ve been plugging away at this musical since 2005 when they first heard about the Highland Quest competition run through Eden Court in Inverness. They didn’t win, but they were heartened by the public response and managed to get it staged in 2008 with students from Glasgow's RSAMD on the Edinburgh Fringe, where I last saw it.

Back then this story of a big-shot American money-man determined to buy the very last bottle of a malt whisky called Glenigma was imperfect, but showed cask-loads of promise. So now here it is again, with a professional company, Right Lines Productions, a seven-strong cast with live music and a circuitous tour of Scotland.

It's still not perfect, but it shows more promise still, and if the standing ovation it gets from sections of the audience on a Friday night in Perth is an indication, it is going down extremely well.

The big improvement comes in the more fully developed second half, when writers Euan Martin and Dave Smith get to grips with the show's deeper theme. The opening joke is that the Highlands have been romanticised out of all recognition by a group of New Yorkers with a misty-eyed love of Tartan Day and a belief that the tower blocks and streets of Manhattan somehow resemble the mountains and glens of Scotland.

The culture-clash comedy sustains the show for a while, as George Drennan's wheeler-dealer Ben, Kinny Gardner's put-upon assistant Jeff and Masashi Fujimoto's rival bidder Yomo come to Scotland and try to make sense of a land of bed-and-breakfasts and poor mobile phone reception.

What now emerges more forcibly out of this is a commentary on the collector's instinct, the heritage industry and nostalgia for an imagined past. Alyth McCormack's distillery owner Mary is interested only in living in the present, to enjoy what she has when she has it and not to turn her culture into a museum or a rare product to be bargained for.

It's an important political argument for the Highlands, a region increasingly dependent on tourism and the service industry, and there's a fascinating tension in the way composer James Bryce plays off the essentially American form of the musical with the ceilidh culture of Scotland.

All of this is delivered with tremendous musical energy by the cast, led by musical director Karen MacIver and graced with fabulous vocal arrangements. This is where the show's force lies, and you forgive the less persuasive moments of acting because the whole thing is done with such heart.

Disappointing, in Ian Grieve's production, is the low-budget set, which lacks flair and imagination, and makes what is presumably quite an expensive show look cheap. Also in need of work is the under-written character of Yomo, the rival Japanese entrepreneur: if they parody American attitudes to Scotland, why not Japanese attitudes too?

A better developed story would make Yomo a more powerful adversary and avoid the clichÈ of the mysterious Oriental gentleman. And finally, the writers should succumb to the conventions of the Hollywood musical and give Ben and Mary a decent love story instead of the half-baked relationship they have now.

Nitpicking? Maybe, but it goes to show what a demanding form the musical is and what impressive ground the company has covered so far. Whisky Kisses is an enjoyable night out, but it could be a great one yet.

Whisky Kisses remaining tour dates are at Strathpeffer Pavilion on 19 May, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on 20 and 21 May, and the Macphail Centre, Ullapool, on 22 May 2010.

© Mark Fisher, 2010

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