Oor Wullie

Dundee Rep

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Icons don’t come much bigger in this country than Oor Wullie. The spiky-topped tearaway and his bucket-wielding antics in small-town Auchenshoogle have made generations of comic strip readers part of Wullie’s gang ever since he was first created by Dudley D. Watkins in 1936. That sense of inclusion pervades this bold stage adaptation by writer and lyricist Scott Gilmour and composer Claire McKenzie, the internationally successful musical theatre duo behind the Noisemaker company, who have joined forces with Dundee Rep and Selladoor Productions to allow Wullie to make the leap from page to stage.

Andrew Panton’s production enables this by way of a set-up where Eklovey Kashyap’s disaffected real world schoolboy Wahid, on the run from everyday racism in the classroom, is loaned an Oor Wullie annual by a mysterious librarian called Dudley. Through this portal comes Wullie himself, played by Martin Quinn as a gallus Peter Pan-like sprite in search of his stolen bucket. From this jumping off point, Wullie and Wahid embark on an awfully big adventure in a construction that draws from teen movie angst, with all the explorations of belonging, social cliques and the urge to stay forever young that goes with the genre.

With George Drennan regaling the audience with rhyming couplets as Dudley, Wullie and co become a kind of Scooby gang who land in an episode of Glee soundtracked by the sort of infectiously raucous Caledonian-tinged pop designed to rouse nations. There is also a scene-stealing gospel routine to treasure care of Ann Louise Ross as PC Murdoch and Irene Macdougall’s smitten teacher.

Gilmour’s patter-rich dialogue is shot through with a fruitily baroque swagger that creates a demotic all its own. As Panton’s cast of ten stride through the sliding doors and rubbish bins of Kenneth Macleod’s set, the play’s family friendly treatise on friendship, belonging and strength through unity is as good a festive message as any in a show that brings knowingness and depth to a classic cartoon hero.