City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Nancy Sleekit and The Herd of Standlan Review

By Dylan Matthew - Posted on 25 August 2009

Show details
Riddle's Court
Theatre Enigma in association with Rowan Tree Theatre
Running time: 
Zoe Hunter and Colin Moncrieff

Having spent the last three weeks enjoying mainly raucous booze fuelled comedy from a plethora of standups, one great kids show (Jumping Mouse) and a terrific dance piece (Zeitgeist), I thought it about time I checked out some ‘proper’ theatre, something with actual content, something to say, something that comes with a pedigree. I wanted to see theatre that comes with real actors (pronounced ‘aktohrrs’), you know the type - professionals with a bit of training behind them, some poise, projection and a bit of class.

I couldn’t have made a better start than by stumbling into a terrific double-bill of two short plays of lesser know works by prominent Scottish authors.

Both written and performed in Scots tongue by two energetic and gifted actors the first is Nancy Sleekit by playwright Donald Campbell (not to be confused with the more famous land and boat speed record breaker of days gone by).
The semi-gothic play is set in what appears, judging by the costume, to be Edwardian times, although it's not specified. Nancy Sleekit is a serial widower, who may in fact be a serial killer, although that is left for us to judge. She’s a pretty, wily and charming woman of modest means who on the surface is all pleasant airs and graces, but underneath is a cold-hearted gets-what-she-wants dragon.

Nancy admits herself she’s very nice to get on with as long as everything’s rosy, but if things don’t go her way she becomes a raging torrent of anger, a child having an adult sized tantrum.

She narraties the story of her marriages to three rather unlucky gentlemen whose eventual disappointing behaviour pushes her to the ultimate extreme. While we feel a sprinkling of sympathy for her sense of injustice and murderous rationale we also enjoy her innocent sense of glee and triumph of keeping her social standing intact. There’s a touch of Sweeney Todd about her, but the one person who really sprung to mind was that of a more malevolent Scarlett O’Hara, a selfish princess obsessed with her own happiness at all costs.

In one sense Sleekit is an prototype feminist, just one that you wouldn’t want to cross. It’s also a very witty piece played to perfection with a lot of conviction and gusto by young actress Zoe Hunter who confidently conveys all of Sleekit’s steely charm.

The second play is The Herd of Standlan by John Buchan of The Thirty Nine Steps fame. In this Colin Moncrieff plays Gideon Scott, a Borders shepherd who late one night from a clifftop spots a young Laird falling into a dangerous whirlpool whilst Salmon fishing. Gideon rushes to his aid but breaks his arm on the way down in his haste to rescue him. The entire and very suspenseful remainder of the play revolves around Gideon struggling to hold onto the drowning Laird. Not only is he dealing with his own injury but he also endures a nightime’s worth of pain and cold-induced hallucinations of ghosts, spirits and demons that toy with his mind tempting him to let go of the laird and save his own skin.

I wont tell you what happens in the end but it has a thought-provoking and hilarious twist. Colin Moncrieff is excellent in the part and appropriately a very physical presence for a role which requires us to believe that he is struggling to hold up a dead weight whilst there is a raging torrent of water beneath him throughout. He also subtly conveys the simple humanity that comes with grappling with your own moral conundrums and personal demons.
In both stories the actors also play the parts of the characters they interact with and this is cleverly conveyed by simple and rapid changes of stance and atmospheric lighting.

Performed in an intimate and appropriately ‘ye olde’ setting with minimal props this is substance over style and I came out feeling enriched, entertained and proud of my heritage. I’ll admit it took a few minutes to initially adjust to the unfamiliarity of the old Scots tongue but this is quickly swept aside by convincing performances and two cracking good yarns.

At Diverse Attractions in Riddles Court at the top of The Royal Mile. 5.15pm every afternoon til 29 August. Both plays are 45 mins long with a 5 to 10 minute interval.