Whisky Galore is a stage adaptation of the famous 1947 Compton Mackenzie book of the same name, and many people probably know it best from the 1949 Ealing film version.

It is based on the true story of the SS Politician that ran aground off the Island of Eriskay en route to Jamaica and the U.S.A.  laden with 28,000 cases of export whisky (to raise funds for the war effort), and nearly 290,000 ten shilling notes.  Claiming the ancient rights of shipwreck salvage, the islanders made sure that the full contents of the cargo were never fully recovered by the government of the day.

Compton Mackenzie shifts the story to two small fictional islands “Great Todday” and “Little Todday”, re-names the boat the “SS Cabinet Minister” and sets the scene in 1942. 

This is a bleak time on the islands as wartime rationing has seen their supply of “the water of life” run out and the supply of beer is about to go the same way.  When almost divine intervention provides the islanders with a shipwrecked cargo of whisky on a Saturday night, they still observe the religious customs of no work at all on the Sabbath and wait until Monday to claim their bounty.

This production is by Leitheatre, and they always provide quality drama to the community and tonight is no exception even if the first half of the play was a little slow.  Although there are some fine gentle comedy moments, so much of the action is set around the menfolk in the local pub complaining of the lack of whisky and this gives little movement for character and story development.  The womenfolk barely get a look in.

Things improve enormously though in the second act once the shipwreck finally happens.  We also get far more of a story developing with impending marriages, attempts to thwart them, possessive old mothers, a fine minister, a bumbling English Home Guard Platoon leader and government excise men.

Picking one person out of a local drama group for mention is always unfair (so I won’t).  This was a community group effort from everyone, and it is vital to theatre that local community groups like Leitheatre not only exist but that they continue to grow in strength.

Leitheatre have been around for a long time providing local drama, and reading the programme for tonight it is fitting that this production is in South Leith Halls, which is built on the site of the old Kirkgate Church where the original Kirkgate Drama Group was formed in 1946.  It is rather a little sad  though that a wartime play maybe reminds some people  in Leith that, although The War could not destroy the Old Kirkgate, the Edinburgh Town Planners could and did in the 1960s.  We need Leitheatre not only to provide us with local drama, but also to make us remember the unique identity and history that is Leith and that although many of the buildings may be gone, the spirit of Leith still survives.

Review by

Tom King


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