Published in the Guardian
His Majesty's, Aberdeen
MENTION The Wicker Man and people tend to snigger. Something in the movie's anachronistic juxtaposition of Scottish island setting, English folklore and early 70s period detail - not to mention Britt Ekland's naked frolicking - make it a guilty pleasure. But a pleasure it is, giving a genuinely creepy edge to the story of the policeman who stumbles into a pagan enclave where the population is hungry for human sacrifice. It may be uncool to admit it, but it is quite compelling viewing.
In adapting Robin Hardy's film for the stage, Greg Hemphill and Donald McLeary have understood this embarrassed snigger. In this National Theatre of Scotland production, which tours Scotland before a run at the Edinburgh fringe, they laugh at the silliness of the soft-focus sex, the mechanics of the scary story and the dated air of the hippy-folk soundtrack. At the same time, they do not entirely dismiss the idea that, even in modern-day Britain, it is possible for a backwater community to exist in such haunting isolation.
Rather than a straight adaptation, An Appointment with the Wicker Man is a play within a play presented by the Loch Parry Players, a fictional amdram troupe that has brought in professional actor Rory Mulligan (Sean Biggerstaff) to play the policeman in its staging of The Wicker Man. Just as the islanders in the film are unnervingly silent about the missing Rowan Morrison, so these actors are mysteriously tight-lipped about Roger Morgan, the club member who should have played the policeman. Mulligan becomes an unwitting method actor as the villagers' secretive behaviour gets under his skin off-stage and on.
Much of this in Vicky Featherstone's production is very funny, with characteristically comic performances by Sally Reid, never doubting her credentials as the new Ekland; Johnny McKnight, seeing no contradiction in adding a Glee-style chorus line to his "spooky glam" production; and Hemphill himself, pompously controlling the Loch Parry company he has run for 20 years.
It has a touch of the self-referential amdram send-up of the Farndale Avenue plays by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr, but it is done with verve, wit and generosity. What is missing is a satiric intent. It is an enjoyable show - and no harm in that - but it doesn't feel very necessary, offering neither re-evaluation of the film nor commentary on the characters, who become more cartoon-like as it goes on. It is fun while it lasts, but fun is its chief purpose, and there is little going on beyond the silliness.
© Mark Fisher, 2012 (Pic: Manuel Harlan)
More coverage at theatreSCOTLAND.com
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND updates
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND discussion