City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Tobacco Merchant's Lawyer Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 10 August 2013

Show details
Assembly Rooms
Subway Theatre Company
Running time: 
Iain Heggie (Writer), Liz Carruthers (director), Gordon Bavaird (designer)
John Bett (Enoch Dallmellington)

We enter what is currently designated ‘Studio Two’ at the Assembly Rooms to find John Bett, already costumed as Glasgow lawyer Enoch Dallmellington, and seated at a desk and surrounded by papers.

Dallmellington is calculating the depth of the do-do his speculations have catapulted him into. Investment in a voyage to purchase tobacco for subsequent sale in Glasgow has toomed his purse considerably, and we become onlookers of the consequential car-crashes by which he attempts to mend his situation.

‘The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer’, however, is as much about Glasgow as it is about Dallmellington (the character, rather than the place). The lawyer’s reflections on the Glasgow of his own time are given counter-point by the visions of Mistress Zapata, consulted by Dallmellington’s house-keeper of the Scotland of the future.

Quite how Dallmellington is rescued from his plight takes some time to be revealed, and John Bett clearly relishes the role he’s been given.

It’s mostly good clean fun, with a friendly nod toward the fast-paced comedies of Carlo Goldoni and Titus Maccius Plautus. If there’s a cavil to be raised, it is that more might have been made of the part played by Glasgow in the ‘slave triangle’ that transported West African slaves to the Americas and carried their pickings back to Glasgow to enrich its ‘Tobacco Lords’, and it feels slightly odd that the prescient Mistress Zapata has nothing to say of the way in which our attitudes to tobacco have changed in some two centuries.

That apart, ‘The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer’ remains a good-hearted piece of fun that skips through its hour at a brisk pace. In the furiously-paced and commercially packaged world of the Fringe, it’s always a pleasure to encounter productions that eschew hype and emphasise more solid virtues.

In the case of ‘The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer’ solid writing and direction have clearly assisted John Bett in pushing this production to the five star finish line.

Runs 2 - 11 and 13 - 25 August, 1.30 pm