Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
One of the most refreshing things about the second part of the National Theatre of Scotland's compendium of mini monologues by contemporary writers inspired by one of the SNPG's magnificently multi-faceted archive is, as with its predecessor, co-directors Joe Douglas and Catrin Evans' refusal to cast to type. So while Janice Galloway's take on Muriel Spark is performed by Anneika Rose with a vivaciousness that suggests a nation in its prime, Johnny McKnight's version of the Queen finds Colin McCredie playing a woman hurt both by neglect and the fact she has been portrayed on screen by Helen Mirren.
Linda McLean's Clementina Stirling Graham is a shrewd operator, Liz Lochhead's Robert Burns a partisan firebrand, while Rona Munro's tribute to Dear Scotland contributor Jackie Kay is the warmest of homages. Rob Drummond's Three Oncologists look at some very real matters of life and death, Nicola McCartney's bystander from a scene involving James III brings home some similarly hard truths, even as Iain Heggie's James VI and I is a gloriously bucket-mouthed chancer showing off his motley collection of flag designs.
We are only fully brought back down to earth in what is effectively a series of spoken-word routines by comic Chic Murray and trade unionist Jimmy Reid. As devilishly observed by writer Stewart Hepburn and performer Sally Reid, Murray's showbiz anecdote is a deceptively wise parable involving Jimmy Tarbuck, Barry Manilow and the distance between tenement walls. It is Hardeep Singh Kohli's version of Reid, however, who possesses the common touch required to prove that, no matter what happens next, while much of the polemic will come cheap and easy, it will always be the poetry that counts.