A Play, a Pie and a Pint: Margaret Saves Scotland – Val McDermid
***** (5 stars)
This was utterly brilliant: the story of a wee nine-year-old girl from Keighley who falls in love with Scotland on a family holiday in Galloway and finds out all she can about the country from the meagre stock of books in her local library. When she discovers Scotland’s history she is outraged and, convinced that Scotland needs to be awoken and freed from English oppression, she makes it her mission to lead the Scots in their fight for independence – starting off with waking them up to the fact of their oppression and need for independence.
Her down-to-earth father can’t appreciate the comparison Margaret makes between England’s invasion and annexation of Scotland and Hitler’s invasion of Poland and in typical masculine fashion believes he can pressurise Margaret into submission by returning the pitifully few Scottish books to the library and insisting she concentrates on her former choice of reading – school stories… little does he know his daughter! She bunks off from school and conceals herself in Tam’s lorry bound for Scotland, ending up at Jean and Tam’s house, where she refuses to reveal her identity, insisting she be called Flora [as in MacDonald] and with true fervour begins her mission, undaunted by the fact that most of the Scots in the village are unaware that they need to be liberated.
Tori Burgess gives a brilliant performance as the wee girl Margaret, fired with true fervour for her adopted nation, ignoring all the obstacles in her way or finding inventive ways round them, and only scuppered when the village polisman finally phones round all the English regional police headquarters and discovers her true identity and origin. Clare Waugh and Simon Donaldson are excellent as Margaret’s stolid Yorkshire parents, the warm and welcoming Jean and Tam, and sundry other characters including a helpful librarian, a very disturbing wee wifie at the petrol station and a somewhat slow and ghoulishly-minded village constable.
There is witty and gentle humour which makes good use of the differences between the English and the Scots, and the misunderstandings between them. Excellent use of back projection both establishes locations and gives a good sense of travelling and period, with what might now be described as ‘vintage’ vehicles proceeding soberly along country roads, while all three actors show great versatility with both song and instruments which provides a constant stream of melodies, many of them Scots, which underline the emotions raging in the play – and, as ever, brought me to tears with a closing verse of for a’ that’.
There is a twist in the (true) tale which I won’t reveal, but which celebrates Val McDermid’s friend who told her the story and vindicates Margaret’s passion for Scotland and the mission she began at the age of nine. It’s a cracking good play, as you would expect from Val McDermid, splendidly brought to life by three very talented actors, and a wonderful way to spend a lunchtime this week (you can also catch it on Friday evening if you can’t get away at lunchtime).
A Play, a Pie and a Pint: Margaret Saves Scotland – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh: Runs until 21st April for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event-detail/1378/a-play-a-pie-and-a-pint-margaret-saves-scotland.aspx
Review by Mary Woodward