Para Handy, EFT, Review
The sight of the Inverbeg Recycling Unit and its hard-hatted and fluorescent-jacketed workers roaming the stage was a poignant start to this tribute by John Bett to the well-loved stories and characters created gey near 100 years ago by Gaelic writer Neil Munro.
The old puffer, SS Vital Spark, was always the fifth ‘man’ in the stories, but these boats are no longer seen on the Clyde and have been consigned to the scrapheap. There is a question posed in the programme as to whether “a return to coastal cargo transport [could] be the answer” to current road congestion. A great idea, but meantime John Bett and the cast and crew have resurrected and recycled these fondly remembered maritime tales for a 21st century audience.
The production takes the form of a series of sketches based on Munro’s stories, with the Inverbeg Recycling Unit morphing back to the Vital Spark. The atmosphere is augmented with a two-screen video showing Scottish Film Archive footage from the early 20th century and some stylised green and purple hills in the foreground.
Original music is melded with traditional songs and airs like I Belong to Glasgow and Farewell to Sicily played by the sterling band of players who also take on roles in the sketches, donning hats and shawls as appropriate with my chum, John Sampson, stepping out manfully as the concierge in between tootling and rattling lemonade bottles.
At a guess, going by the average age of Thursday night’s audience, they would associate the Para Handy tales with the television series of the ‘60s and ‘70s when the cast of Roddy McMillan, Walter Carr, John Grieve and Alex McAvoy defined Munro’s pawky creations and were hard acts to follow as they seemed to have indelibly stamped their version of the characters on the Scottish nation.
However, this cast have made these favourites their own without straying from Munro’s original shrewdly observed dodgy mariners. Jimmy Chisholm’s highly comic rolling sailor’s gait and the soft wellie shuffle to Lily of Laguna were a joy as was his courting of Mary Crawford, the baker’s widow with the killer chat up line, ‘see’s a haud o yer haun’!
This show takes you on a nostalgic trip doon the watter with a cargo load of puns like ‘you three are a pair’ and ‘the thin edge of the hedge’ along with the mad cap situations that are bursting with dry, pithy humour where fly auld Para aye wins over his hapless crew.
This labour of love is a fantastic tribute to something that started in a Glasgow Evening News column in 1905 and grew to be a literary institution in Scotland, the stories never having been out of print since that date. Bett has introduced a wee hint of the risqué not present in the original but has retained its spirit. The apparent innocence of the tales is belied in the detail of the low cunning, their eye for the main chance and willingness to get one over on each other. Yet, the underlying humour and humanity charms and their flaws are portrayed without any crudeness.
This was a heart-warming performance all round given to an audience who seemed to recognise and love these weel kent chiels, warts and all. It is wonderful that a favourite Scots text has been injected with such life.
Thursday 13 to Saturday 15 October, 7.30pm (Sat 2.30pm)