Adapted for the Stage by Isobel McArthur with Michael John McCarthy
Directed by Isobel McArthur and Gareth Nicholls
Well, she’s done it again.
In an emergence of their auteurship as one of Scotland’s most talented, and frankly valuable, theatre writers, Isobel McArthur, with co-adapter and composer Michael John McCarthy, retells another famous tale through the lens of someone else. Similarly to where the comedic masterpiece Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) repositioned the work of Jane Austen’s novel from the view of the female serving class, here a beacon of hope emerges in the narration of the unabridged version of Kidnapped through the eyes, and voice, of not its author Robert Louis Stevenson, but his wife, Frances.
Offering more than a fresh lick of paint, McArthur and co-director Gareth Nicholls raise the bones of Stevenson’s novel into the foundations of the show – punching through the rigging with musicality and cutting humour, all serving to give this sea-faring epic a touch of the more personal and earnest. What emerges isn’t just a Queer-coded piece of theatre, this is a gay love story front and centre, without a hint of suggestion or irony. It’s an important step, treated with such forthcoming simplicity that it weaves itself around the ripping yarn of Stevenson’s storytelling without a second glance: a pristine and flawless example of presentation.
And what a tale to be told: of a young boy, no, man, orphaned after the loss of his father without a penny or roof to go out into the world. Leaving his home at the Borders to find safety with his last remaining relative, only to find treachery awaiting at the hands of his Uncle, who has the lad, what else? Kidnapped. Privateers, waring Clans, land factors and Red Coats, the threats Davie’s faces are numerous and violent, but they’re nothing compared to what’s in store as he encounters a shipwreck survivor, a man unlike any he has met before.
An intoxicating rebellious performance as a Scottish lord of Mischief, Malcolm Cumming channels literary escapism and a thirst for Stevenson’s book – a bit of a heartthrob, a dash of vagrancy, Gaelic-speaking and rocking a killer pair of striking silver boots (props to Anna Orton’s costume here). He ensures the narrative expectant romanticism of the Jacobite cause, even serving as somewhat of a contemporary rallying point for Angle-Scottish relations. It’s a marvellous pairing with Ryan J KacKay’s more earnest, though just as adventure-hungry Davie who grows with a solid arc, tidily and eventually maturing into the man many joked he would never become by the end. Facing so much adversity though, perhaps Davie has a touch of outside help from beyond the edges of Orton’s spectacularly inventive and expanding set.
A sense of omnipotence offers a dimension of manoeuvring from Kim Ismay’s stoical Frances, who parallels her relationship with her husband to the onstage blossoms of Davie Balfour’s connection with the swashbuckling, shadowy-eyed Jacobite Alan Breck Stewart. Ismay captures everything France’s prided herself in being. Which was everything the world wanted her not to be: divorced, already a mother, forthright and self-assured.
While cast adrift, Davie and Alan encounter a soiree of motley ensemble rogues, scoundrels, and bloody Karens. The extent to which the company give itself to comedy and physicality is ludicrous, baffling in the multitude of characterisations they perform. Danielle Jam, Karen Young and Christina Gordon switch between assassins, privateers and beleaguered neighbours with a lighting pace, each distinctive and often accompanying musical director Isaac Savage in building out the break-away scenes away from Davie or Alan. Grant O’Rourke manages to siphon every breath of laughter out of the audience playing a host of characters, even the dullest of creatures, a lawyer. It’s a mastery of the comedic matched by David Rankine, who is having more fun on stage with their physical comedy than we thought possible, all rounded out by Fatima Jawara’s take on the misery Ebenezer Balfour.
Equally, this band of often Ne’er-do-wel’s aren’t far from McCarthy’s heightened sense of musicality. While not strictly a sung-through piece, music is undoubtedly a core of the show, the entire ten-strong cast giving it their all both vocally and with live instrumentals to coincide with selected pop classics to offer flavour and reinforcement to the onstage emotional form: with a gorgeous rendition of Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again.
Spoken directly from heart to hearth of the homelands, Kidnapped brands itself firmly as a piece of Scottish Theatre through and through – and would do so even without the setting, the tartan, and the Bru. Its ability to lampoon itself, find politics in everything, and lace a gay-love story through adventure and swordplay, champions this heartfelt comedic piece into much more than the sum of its parts. McArthur re-affirms herself into the theatrical zeitgeist of Scotland, delivering something which is, for lack of adorning, perfect.
From Heart to Hearth
Kidnapped runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatre until April 22nd. Tuesday – Saturday, 19.30pm with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 14.30pm.
Running time – Two hours and twenty minutes with one interval. Suitable for ages 12+
Tickets begin from £18.00 and may be obtained here.