Mary Woodward Review

Kidnapped! National Theatre of Scotland, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

**** (4 stars)

Well that was fascinating!  After the howling success that was Pride & Prejudice (sort of) I was expecting an equally outstanding account of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.  I have to confess to having been somewhat disappointed by the first half – but was blown away by the opening scene of the second act, and by the end thoroughly entertained and appreciative of the excellence of this swashbuckling rom-com adventure.

I read the novel a while ago and, though I recognised the bare bones of the story, I can’t say I was familiar with the detail.  More importantly, I knew absolutely nothing about RLS’s wife, Frances Mathilda Ver Der Grift Osbourne Stevenson, and the part she played in the author’s life and work.  In this production she took centre stage, first, last, and all the way through – and boy, did she shine!  She strolled into the spotlight and held us in the palm of her hand as she told us of her eventful life before she met RLS.  Her comments on the narrative and her account of her own life added depth to the emotions experienced by the protagonist, David Balfour in this extraordinary tale.

The novel is written in the first person, with Davie Balfour recounting the catalogue of events following the death of his father – kidnapping being almost the very least of them.  The show tells his story in Isobel McArthur’s inimitable style:  memorable characters and settings, wicked humour and perfectly-chosen music.  Well-known popular music and brilliant specially-composed songs by Michael John McCarthy enhance the narrative, and the sets, including The Essential Boulder, [which is bigger than you think], are used in ever-more inventive ways.

A small cast creates an impressive variety of characters and settings, and much humour is derived from the tale’s inimitable Scottishness.  My main reason for not giving the show five stars was the rather clunky history lesson given to explain why the dashing Alan Breck Stewart was travelling to France carrying money for ‘the King in exile’ – it’s a complicated history, but to me made more complicated by the attempt to make it funny.  It’s important to explain why Alan Breck Stewart is in mortal danger, but perhaps the point was over-laboured?  [Maybe not, though, for people who know nothing of Scottish history?]

Life, vigour, enthusiasm and general joie de vivre resound throughout.  Set, costumes, production, music are all superb: I particularly loved the clever use of projection to illustrate Davie’s wanderings around Scotland, the underwater opening of act 2, and the final magical moonlit scene.  

The cast is extremely talented.  In addition to a sizeable number of rapid character-, gender-, and costume-changes, they bow and pluck stringed instruments, bash drum kit or tea chest with equal gusto, and are adepts on any number of other things.  All are picked up and put down at a moment’s notice, both for songs [with dancing!] and as accompaniment to the many complex scene changes: one’s attention never wanders.  The five ensemble players all deserve mention by name:  Christina Gordon, Danielle Jam, Fatima Jawara, Grant O’Rourke and David Rankine were joined by Performing Musical Director Isaac Savage – look out for them all in future!

The three principals were also brilliant.  Ryan J MacKay’s Davie was a right gowk: trusting and innocent, he wouldn’t have survived five minutes on his own in the wild.  He is politically naive, and believes everyone he meets to be good and helpful, only to be deceived time and again – until he meets Alan Breck Stewart: and this is where it gets really interesting, and the rom-com takes off…

Malcolm Cumming is the perfect dashing Alan Breck Stewart, the epitome of Jacobite fire and passion.  His accent, I was told, is a perfect rendition of that to be heard in the Outer Hebrides, and it’s small wonder that everyone who’s on his side regards him as little less than divine.  He swashes, he buckles, he defies death with a debonair smile – who wouldn’t fall for him?

Kim Ismay’s Frances simply sparkles, dominates the stage [in a good way] and shows herself to be the powerhouse that kept RLS alive and enabled him to write this cracking yarn.  An apparently tough and determined American, she single-handedly survived and rose above a chapter of horrors before meeting and melting into marriage with her Louis.  Small wonder that Isobel McArthur, on discovering her history, made her central to this narrative – an exceptional woman in her own right, whose support, nurture and encouragement of her husband ensured that Kidnapped was written and took the world by storm.

National Theatre of Scotland have done themselves proud again – you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll rush off to find a copy of Kidnapped.

Kidnapped! National Theatre of Scotland, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 22ndApril, for tickets go to: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/kidnapped

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