The Broons –Maggie’s Wedding at The King’s Theatre brings “Scotland’s Best Loved Family” to life on stage 80 years after their first appearance in the Fun Section of the Sunday Post newspaper. Sadly for me though, jings, crivens and help ma boab, this family bear almost no resemblance to the characters I recognise from Sunday Post or the much loved Broons annual that like so many others was as much a part of my childhood on Christmas Day as the day itself. The annual was actually not an annual, but a once every two years publication that alternated with that other great Sunday Post strip and annual – Oor Wullie. When I think of The Broons it is with warm nostalgic memories, and none of them were present on stage in this show. Even the use of the artwork from the 1950 annual in the picture frame artwork for this production did not help here.
To be fair here, I think that director Andrew Panton and playwright Rod Drummond were always going to be presented with a near impossible task of bringing The Broons to the real life stage as everyone probably has their own memories and ideas of what every family member should be like, and any attempt at a stage show is going to leave someone unhappy. Part of the problem with any attempted adaptation is the format of The Broons stories themselves and their origins. Created in 1936 by writer Robert Duncan Low and illustrated by artist Dudley D Watkins, The Broons family were pretty much fully formed since their very first 1936 appearance in the fun pages of D C Thomson’s Sunday Post (Granpaw existed only as a picture on the wall for a while but was soon added as a character). Once Dudley Watkins moved away from a standard comic cartoonish interpretation of the family in the very early strips and settled down into his classic art style for this strip, one of the greatest comic strips ever to see print was firmly established in both writing and art styles. The very styles of the stories also present a problem for any stage show. The format is a story told in one single page. Often that story revolves around a visual gag or a misunderstanding of what someone has said - how do you develop that out to a full stage show?
Script wise, there has been an attempt to stick to the visual gags and misunderstandings that are in the original strips, and many of the little stories and gags in this production are actually taken from the original pages of The Broons. There is also a nice little touch of The Bairn often talking about what is to come in rhyming couplets, and I am sure many people will remember these at the top of every story page. One of the biggest problems for me here is that the story line is set in contemporary times and yes, I know the strip is still running and set in modern times too. That itself is part of the problem, as the strip itself has never really made it into modern times. For me, the Broons family belong in the past and the stories and art of the 1940s to 1960s perfectly captured a world in a never specified location that everyone knew and felt comfortable with as the locations and many characters they met mirrored their own daily life. So much of that world and its values have simply gone, and I think an enormous opportunity was missed here not to base the story line in the classic strip periods of the 1950s or early 1960s and take many of the audience on a happy trip down memory lane. I wanted to see their living room and see maw and paw in front of their coal fire with those wally dugs on the mantelpiece – each in their chair, maw knitting while paw reads his paper and smokes his pipe and not big letters making up the “Broons logo”
The other issue for me on this one is the family themselves. Like the comic strip, this has to be a cast of many (with some playing multiple parts) – Paw (Paul Riley), Maw (Joyce Falconer), Granpaw (Kern Falconer), Maggie (Kim Allan), Daphne (Laura Szalecki), Hen (Tyler Collins), Joe (John Kielty), Horace (Euan Bennet) , The Twins (Duncan Brown and Kevin Lennon) and of course The Bairn (Maureen Carr) all do their very best here to bring our family to life – particularly on the musical numbers, but there is none of that depth and warmth to the characters that I have come to love over the years. It is for me hard to imagine Maw Broon ever behaving the way she does here, and I would be surprised if the very devout Christian beliefs of Dudley D Watkins would have allowed him to deal with a story line involving how the twins get some of the money for Maggie’s wedding. The closest to any Broons that I recognise here is Granpaw, and Kern Falconer gets close for me on this one. Despite this story line revolving around Maggie’s Wedding, Laura Szalecki often seems to steal the scenes as her Daphne just seems to be a far more developed person.
Musically, we are put right into the scene setting before we start the show as some traditional Scottish songs play over the sound system (even Maggie May is in there), but the music of the show itself is a bit of a hit and miss of some of the best loved traditional and contemporary songs of the past decade or two with some having the lyrics re-written for the show. In there are an energetic party cover of The Proclaimers “500 Miles” and of course The Bay City Rollers “Shang A Lang”, but some that just did not work for me. The beautiful “Patience of Angels” by Boo Hewerdine should have been left alone. Our finale is an over long karaoke that at times moves into “bad karaoke”.
When you are reviewing a show like this that just does not for whatever reason work for you, I think it always fair to balance things up a bit. Judging by the laughter and applause from what appeared to be the majority of the audience here, I seemed to be in a minority as many of the jokes and visual sight gags were going down well, and that final sing-a-long was obviously enjoyed by the many. I also recognise the difficulty in trying to adapt The Broons to the stage and the fact that the set has to fit both economical and touring considerations. I also accept that there was an obvious attempt to try and make the show accessible to a younger audience as well as an older one, but at times the show just did not seem to be able to make up its mind what audience it was trying to reach. This really is one of those go and see it and make your own mind up shows.
Review by Tom King