The World According to Bertie Review
Just like the serialised tales in magazines of Conan Doyle and Dickens, 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith began as a daily column in The Scotsman newspaper. There are now six books in the popular series of stories about the life, loves and times of the residents of No. 44 amidst the elegantly cultural, bourgeoisie neighbourhood of the New Town, Edinburgh.
The fourth book “The World According to Bertie” has been cleverly adapted into a stage play with inspired imagination by American writers, Lydia Bruce and Sandy Burns. In recent years, exciting site specific Fringe shows have taken place in private houses, so it would not have been surprising if a flat in Scotland Street (44 may not exist but the street does) had been rented for a super realistic set.
Instead, theatre-goers clamber up two flights, through fire damaged doors and hallways to the top floor of C Soco, Chambers Street, to an atmospheric ballroom of a space, where the action takes place on small platform stages in this perfect theatre in the round.
Here are the familiar locations of the intimate, genteel world of Bertie, his family and friends - the front door of No 44, Dr. Fairbairn’s consulting room, Valvona & Crolla Deli, the Floatarium spa in Stockbridge, The Cumberland bar, Big Lou's cafe and Matthew’s Art Gallery on Dundas Street. In the centre is the pink bedroom of Bertie, the 6 year old child genius, our very reliable narrator.
With an impressive cast of eleven actors, here is the line up of colourful characters, dramatic adventures and romantic encounters soap-opera style - the short episodic chapters of the book recreated as fast moving scenes.
In an engaging performance of pure boyish innocence by Clark Devlin, poor wee Bertie suffers the cultural and intellectual aspirations of his pushy and pompous yummy mummy, Irene. His father Stuart who we are told, “makes up numbers for the Scottish Executive”, is also bullied by his wife and would probably like to escape, if only he could find where he parked his car.
Some of the more convincing scenes feature Bruce (Matthew Ellis), in his blue and white striped rugby shirt and with a nonchalant attitude to life, seducing his beautiful, wealthy girlfriend Julia, portrayed with style by Emma Lambie as a cool chic, socialite. Both capture their mutual devious personalities with well-timed humour.
The cameo role of Julia’s father, a commercial property entrepreneur in smart camel coat, is also perfectly in tune. Angus, the artist, dressed in a paint spattered jacket, is a friend to all, yet privately a rather lonely figure who depends on the companionship of his dog, Cyril.
While the majority of characters have the distinctive, classy voice and manner of New Town residents, there are a couple of jarring accents creeping in from Glasgow and elsewhere. This is simply not McCall Smith's Edinburgh!
For those who relish the Scotland Street stories, you will delight in seeing the people, places and crazy incidents come to life. Perhaps the more complex, emotional subtext of married life and friendships has not translated to the stage, but Bruce and Burns have retained the rich cream of the storyline frothed up into a light hearted farce. If this play introduces you to the goings on around Scotland Street, you will surely rush off to buy the books. The latest, “Bertie Plays the Blues”, has just been published.
Til 29 August, 7.20pm & 9pm
£7.50 - £11.50