EDINBURGH 2014 - BWW Reviews: THE VILLAINS, THE VOTE AND THE BLACK, BLACK OIL, Sweet Grassmarket, August 23rd 2014
7:84 Scotland's The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil is easily one of the most important and influential pieces of Scottish theatre. A stunning piece of agit-prop that toured the country before being filmed for television, it merged traditional Scottish music with fierce polemic in telling the story of how the Scottish Highlands had been exploited throughout history. 7:84 Scotland sadly lost their funding a few years ago, but it is heartening to see that their legacy lives on in work such as The Villains, the Vote and the Black, Black Oil.
Taking up where The Cheviot left off in the 1970s, this new piece uses the same theatrical style to take us on a whistle stop tour of how Scotland and its people have been exploited over the last few decades, from the notorious devolution referendum of 1979, through the machinations of capitalists such as Donald Trump, all the way up to the referendum debates of today. All of this is delivered through a highly engaging mixture of song, broad comedy, historical fact and audience interaction, and supported by performances so bold and full of energy it was surprising not to get an electric shock when an actor playing Alex Salmond went shaking hands with the audience.
It's very effective, and, within moments of the show kicking off, the audience are responding heartily to being asked to join in with a few choruses of Loch Lomond. Those who know the original show will recognise some of the sketches reimagined for a 2014 audience, with posh landowners of the seventies reimagined as Aberdeenshire councillors. Pleasantly, the new material is strong, and while the cast don't fall into the trap of covering only the most obvious events of recent history, instead investigating the likes of the Grangemouth refinery dispute, Salmond and Darling competing in a duelling version of Scotland the Brave is worth a giggle for more than simply the obligatory comical eyebrows.
Perhaps most interestingly, despite the rainbow of Yes badges amongst the audience, the show did not come down on either side of the independence debate. I tend to get grumpy with political theatre that concludes by sitting on the fence, but in this case, the show stayed true to the message of John McGrath's original work in quoting "Nationalism is not enough, the enemy of the Scottish people is Scottish capital as much as the foreign exploiter", a timely reminder that, wherever it may elect people to sit, Scotland needs to be governed by its people.
My only real regret is that 50 minutes seemed rather on the short side for the show. The material is there for a longer piece, and the talent is there too, but it's hard to criticise that when Fringe shows tend to try and keep to an hour or less. That aside, The Villains, the Vote and the Black, Black Oil is a fun and engaging trip through recent Scottish history and a pleasing tribute to the tradition of populist political theatre.
The Villains, the Vote and the Black, Black Oil is at Sweet Grassmarket until August 24th at 8.55pm.