Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Dear Scotland Tour B

Janice Galloway, Johnny McKnight, Linda McLean, Liz Lochhead, Nicola McCartney, Iain Heggie, Rona Munro, Rob Drummond, Stuart Hepburn, Hardeep Singh Kohli
National Theatre of Scotland
National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

Dear Scotland

The second installment of the National Portrait Gallery dramatised tour is equally ambitious in its range and allows the same actors to try their hand at different parts. In comparison to Tour A, which feels very engaging, Tour B at times goes a bit too in-your-face.

As in the first tour, there is some gender switching. This works very well for Chic Murray (Sally Reid), definitely the best choice of all the actors for the role. The simple device of wearing a tartan bunnet coupled with a great sense of humour helps Reid transform into the comedian.

However with The Queen (Colin McCredie) and a female bystander (Tunji Kasim), it doesn't work so well. Johnny McKnight's Queen monologue seems to waver between cheap laughs and trying to show a compassionate side to the monarch. It also seems a bit strained in linking the Queen to the current independence debate.

Many of the performance spaces are tight. The intimacy works well, although Kasim, Lesley Hart as Clementina Sturling Graham and Ryan Fletcher as Robert Burns are almost a bit much when you are within a few centimetres of them. They are all great actors, but the passion is sometimes a bit much for the space.

Anne Lacey proves to be an intelligent, charming presence again, though her character couldn't be more different from Mary Queen of Scots. She gives words to Jimmy Reid's new rust-coloured bust that is currently near the gallery entrance. A very fine ending.

It is well worth seeing both tours as Robert Burns in Tour B proves the complete antidote of Walter Scott's unionism in the same gallery. Indeed, Liz Lochhead's speech is one of the most fervent calls for independence I have seen so far this year. It almost feels like Burns is trying to start a fight and daring anyone to disagree with him.

Where it works best, the tour teaches you a little more about some of the galleries' most iconic work. The ghostly Three Oncologists is a recording by the professors in the painting, with very natural and illuminating dialogue. Rona Munro seems to focus too much on the bronze bust itself rather than the poet Jackie Kay (Maureen Beattie).

Overall, the two tours complement each other and it was a good idea to attempt so many pieces. There is certainly a huge range of strongly argued views on the direction of Scotland's future by a wonderfully eclectic mix of figures.

A great cast too, with perhaps the most important performer being the world's oldest portrait gallery who proves to be far from the twee image that is sometimes ascribed it.

Reviewer: Seth Ewin