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Review: Theatre

Union

Union

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

It takes a thunder-crash to do away with the giant projected Union Jack that fills the stage at the opening of Tim Barrow's new play concerning the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland. Whether such a powerful symbol is any indicator of how the Act may or may not be similarly washed away following the independence referendum this coming September remains to be seen. Either way, Barrow's ambitious piece of imagined history makes for a rollicking political romp involving poet Allan Ramsay, spy turned novelist Daniel Defoe and a roll-call of low-lifes and high-flyers from Edinburgh and London.

It's the way these two worlds rub up against each other sexually and politically that makes Mark Thomson's production so thrilling. With dynamic use of Andrzej Goulding's video design and Philip Pinsky's harpsichord-led underscore, things work best when the exchanges among the ten-strong ensemble are at their most wildly imagined extreme. As Irene Allan's tea-drinking Queen Anne is introduced to whisky by Liam Brennan's boorishly self-important Duke of Queensbury, the emotions unleashed are the flipside of Ramsay's equally drunken love for Sally Reid's prostitute, Grace. Both suggest a nation about to be still-born. Only once Scotland has been sold off do the speeches sound more partisan.

The juxtaposition between the English and Scottish establishments united in their corruption and the back-street barflies trying to get by points up a divide that seems to stem from class more than nationhood. As Grace says of one of her well-heeled clients who has become a whore of a different kind, "It's not country that turns him on. It's greed." Wise words in a boldly audacious work.

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