‘Are you hummable?’ was the question asked of Willy Russell when engaged on what became ‘Blood Brothers’. Some of the numbers in Douglas Maxwell’s ‘The Bookie’ pass the Russell test, but Maxwell’s script raises more questions than it appears to have answers for. The questions come as plentiful and fast as a ‘Mastermind’ final round, but this reviewer was left wondering if the cast, let alone the playwright, has answers for all of them.
Johnathan Queen, international bookmaker extraordinaire is back in his home town of Quarry, to talk the local council into a casino licence and, by the way, attend his brother’s funeral.
Brother Banjo ended it all with a suicide leap through the ceiling of the local branch of his brother’s betting shop empire. The surviving Queen has a lot of baggage to unload and re-arrange before the show is over, and it feels a tad too much for what initially promised to gear up toward a ‘Get Carter’ for 21st century Scotland.
However, rather than tartan noir, what the audience gets is nearer tartan cup-cake, with a bit more froth than the cup can comfortably hold.
To be fair (or at least fairer), there’s a lot of wit and energy on stage, and a good dollop of Maxwell’s scripting skills on display throughout the exchanges. However, although some possibly crucial lines were lost to acoustics – as several teenaged members of the audience also complained of this, it may not have been entirely due to this reviewer’s ageing auditory senses – ‘The Bookie’ doesn’t have the taste of premier cru Maxwell.
A love triangle (or even two), revenge from beyond the grave, board room plotting and the clash of commerce and principle all offer opportunities for a darker, edgier beast to emerge, but ‘The Bookie’ insists on moving toward safer, more sanitised territory.
The former EdinburghGuide.com rating system would have recommended two drams rather than awarding three stars. Perhaps the best way to deal with ‘The Bookie’ is to take these, sit back and enjoy the music.
Till Saturday 16 October, 7.30pm