The World According To Bertie 4 stars
C Soco (Venue 348)
The easy option for someone adapting one of Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street novels would be to book a big theatre, cast a well-known name and pack 'em in. You only have to look at how many shelves the scarily prolific Edinburgh author takes up at Waterstone's to gauge his popularity – and this series of books, first serialised in The Scotsman, are among his best loved.
Admirably, however, director Warren Hooper hasn't gone for the easy option in this first staging of The World According To Bertie, the 2007 instalment to the saga. Instead of a conventional staging, he puts the audience in the centre of the room on little pink stools allowing them to swing round to catch the action going on behind them in all four corners.
This has two beneficial effects. First, it eliminates the need to stop for scene changes, of which, in a story as episodic as this, there are many. Second, it lets him create a sense of the activity of McCall Smith's New Town streets, as the actors discreetly circle around the space during other people's scenes. Together, they make the staging both fluid and dynamic.
For all this, it remains a mainstream show. The script by American playwrights Sandy Burns and Lydia Bruce is not ashamed to paint with the author's same broad, primary coloured brush, the comedy of middle-class manners as gentle as his fans would expect. Cutting edge it is not, but the first-rate 11-strong cast ensure it is a tremendously heart-warming experience. It is a cynicism-free zone, featuring capital landmarks from Valvona and Crolla to the Fruitmarket gallery and all the favourite characters from the book.
With Clark Devlin's six-year-old Bertie at the centre – in his red dungarees and glasses like a less worldly Janette Krankie – it tells a soap-opera tale of lost babies, impounded dogs, missing cars, pregnancies and romances involving a cast of characters who are not given to self-reflection. The satire is affectionate, the performers are generous and it adds up to a breezily feelgood production.
Until 29 August
© Mark Fisher 2011
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