Scraping the bottom of the beer barrel

Still Game Live: The Final Farewell

SEC Hydro, Glasgow

Two stars

Until October 13

The Drift

Lemon Tree, Aberdeen

Four stars

Touring until October 12


Much has been said about the sad ending to the last ever episode of much-loved TV sitcom Still Game. Tear-jerking though it was watching Jack, Victor and their Craiglang pals fade away, leaving Boabby alone behind the bar of The Clansman, it wasn’t as sad as this ultimate parting shot Still Game Live: The Final Farewell.

It may be packing in 10,000 a night at the massive SEC Hydro, but this big stage production is a desperately disappointing way to bring down the curtain on a much-loved comic institution.

I will, no doubt, be seen in some quarters as the critical equivalent of Tam Mullen, Craiglang’s resident skinflint, in daring to pour cold water on this theatrical blockbuster. However, as a longstanding fan of the show, both in its televisual and big arena incarnations, I sat in the Hydro feeling more like the wee boy who points out the great monarch’s nakedness in Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes.

As the guy in front of me nearly ended himself every time someone called Boabby a “prick”, I became increasingly dismayed that Still Game was bowing out with a comic whimper.

There’s nothing wrong with the central conceit of the show, in which the recently departed Glaswegian pensioners are stuck in limbo (well, The Clansman) waiting for Boabby to shuffle off this mortal coil: (it turns out that we go into the afterlife in batches, and Boabby’s death completes the set). Needless to say, the barman’s demise is forthcoming (in terms which are hilariously vulgar), leaving the Craiglang ghosts in the capable hands of creepy undertaker Mr Sheathing (the excellent Bruce Morton enjoying some of the best writing in the play).

However, as the posse are taken off into eternity, the show loses its shape and sharpness. The stage musical dimension of the two previous Still Game arena shows (which reached its apex with Naveed’s Bollywood spectacular) is hardly honoured by a shed load of songs of variable quality. ‘Sit on Yer Arse Boabby’ and the ‘Miserable B***ard’ song (for Tam, of course) are utterly unfunny and unlikely to keep Stephen Sondheim awake at night.

Still Game has always had a nice line in ribald humour, but we’re really scraping the bottom of the beer barrel here. A huge rubber phallus running limply about the stage sums up a bawdy strand in the show that owes more to the drunken, late night single entendre than to Hemphill and Kiernan’s celebrated tradition of comic crudity.

As our heroes approach the pearly gates, the show does have a couple of 24-carat surprises up its sleeve. By then, however, it’s too late to save a production that lacks the theatrical structure and, crucially, the well-written comedy of its big stage predecessors.

From the disappointingly ridiculous to the sublime in Hannah Lavery’s self-performed monologue The Drift. In the piece, which is directed for the National Theatre of Scotland by Eve Nicol, the mixed-race, Scottish poet, author and performer reflects upon the untimely death of her father.

He was, she recalls, a mainly absent “crap dad”, a “Jimi Hendrix lookalike”, a Hibs fan from Edinburgh. Crucially, she reflects upon his, and therefore her, African-Caribbean heritage, and the uneasy relationship it has with her Scottishness.

Her father’s surname was Douglas, and like any other black, Edinburgh Douglas or black, Brixton McFarlane, that name contains a history of Scottish slave owning. A history, however much we pretend that we, Scots, are all “Jock Tamson’s bairns”, of colonial barbarism. What paid for the Victorian grandeur of Scotland’s cities if not African blood?

Performing on a minimal, domestic set, with a simple white backdrop on which images are projected, Lavery segues between the personal, the political and the historical. The moment where she relates details of the inhuman techniques of punishment employed by Scottish slave owners against their African chattel (human beings, treated worse than animals) is chilling; all the more so because it is attended by a contemporary drawing of a female African slave whose neck, face and head have been enclosed in a punitive iron contraption.

This is just a moment, however, a thread, powerful and memorable, in a beautifully humane, poetic prose tapestry. Wrestling with the complexities, the contradictions, and the absurdities, of identity, Lavery tames them, pins them to the floor.

Her Scottishness will not be denied. “F** you, my sweet, forgetful Caledonia”, she says. “Say I don’t belong… but I am limpet stuck on you.”

The love of her own Scots tongue jostles beside our own, Scottish racism, suffered by her, and by her little boy. It rises in memories of her father and Sunshine on Leith being sung at Easter Road.

This is lovely, resonating writing, performed with an enthralling, warm confidence. Moving, charming, chastening, it is precisely the kind of work for which our National Theatre of Scotland was created.

Four tour dates for The Drift, visit: