Writer’s Cramp, St Ninian’s Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Edinburgh Theatre Arts
Iain Kerr (director), Nigel Jarvis (lighting design), Danny Farrimond (sound design)
David McCallum (F S McDade), Danny Farrimond (1st narrator, Double-Davies, Mrs Ripper, Malcolm), David Gibson (2nd narrator, Dr Arthur Quigley, Charles Bentwood Brazil, Trusty), John McLinden (Reader, Mrs Thelma McDade, Father Mannion), Stephen Hajducki (TV announcer)
Running time

Edinburgh Theatre Arts (ETA) is well known for punching above its weight and this time round is no exception. This season’s production, which should have been a double bill but the second play, Primrose Way had to be cancelled due to illness.
John Byrne’s 1977 play Writer’s Cramp is the headline production and tells of the life and times of one Francis Seneca McDade, an aspiring writer and would be artist, from boarding school through Varsity via the jail, a miserable married life and bed ridden poverty back in Paisley.

The cast enters to sound of the old 1930s song It’s Sin to Tell a Lie. With little more than a change of bedspread on the single bed on stage, the set stands as backdrop across decades from the ‘30s to the ‘70s with furniture that looks like Robert Therrian’s designs scaled to human size. The various scenes through McDade’s life are introduced by a narrator before being acted out epistolary style with ETA stalwart David McCallum, whose demeanour is reminiscent of Leonard Rossiter, and who gives his usual committed performance going from short trousered schoolboy to blazered student to tweedy writer. The rest of the four strong cast take on a variety of roles where Danny Farrimond shines in every one.

The play takes a healthy swipe at the art world with its artistic pretentions throughout and holds faint echoes of Byrne’s own life, with mention of a naïve painter Sconie Semple standing in for his own Patrick period. Written in Byrne’s trademark surreal style of stylised heightened language that’s full of wacky wordplay and alliteration, it’s delivery is a challenge to the best of actors so a little stumbling round is to be forgiven. Professional companies often have the luxury of preview nights; amateurs are in at the deep end.

Some of the play’s humour could be lost on younger folk like the remark about how handsome was that Archie Andrews (a ventriloquist puppet) rather than the host of ‘50s TV programme What’s My Line? Eamon Andrews. And where did ETA get Izal toilet paper that McDade writes on at one stage?? Costumes are, as ever, impressive.

Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole’s haunting rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow ends another ambitious production from ETA.

4 – 9 April at 7.30pm