Proof that you can stick the words “The Musical” on the end of just about anything and make a show out of it, this A Play, A Pie and A Pint offering from 2017 revolves around the inevitable culture clash that results when Glaswegian, New Romantic music teacher Morna arrives among the austere, Old Testament-bound community of the fictional Isle of Munst.
Written by Hilary Brooks and Clive King, and directed by Ken Alexander, Wee Free! The Musical features decent light comic performances from a cast of four, most poignantly from the late Pauline Knowles whose neat, po-faced turn as the minister’s wife shows what skills Scottish theatre has lost. Comedy fans meanwhile will recognise stand-up and Scot Squad star, Chris Forbes who turns up as the headmaster and Morna’s love interest, revealing himself to be a capable singer in the process. Neshla Caplan in the lead and George Drennan as the portentous minister complete the cast.
The story plays out fairly straightforwardly via the “opposites attract” romance and tuts of disapproving locals. There’s a wee dose of innuendo and some good one-liners, both from the immigrant’s side – Gaelic is “like learning to speak emphysema” – and from the locals – disparaging Dundee as that “Sodom of the East” – all of which make for an easy and amusing watch. Although you have to be prepared for some crude stereotyping – all the blokes being called Angus is the least of it.
While the songs are OK in themselves, they’re not obviously enhancing what could have worked equally well as a straight play. More earnest moments – headmaster Angus’s heartsick ruminations, for instance – also sit oddly among the general tone of levity. The most inconsequential stylistic choice of all though is the 80s setting. It’s almost arbitrary, particularly as Caplan isn’t kitted out very convincingly as a New Romantic. Replace the solitary Boy George reference with Lady Gaga, Johnny Rotten, Mick Jagger, Elvis, you could set it any time in the past 70 years. In fact, take it back a couple of decades and you heighten the cultural tensions.
None of which is too damaging in simple, lunchtime fare like this, but knowing roughly what we’re in for before it starts, a spark or two of something else wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Wee Free! The Musical was streamed from Wed 13 – Sun 17 May 2020 as part of the A Play, A Pie and A Pint mini virtual season which continues until Sat 30 May. A donation is invited to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. The Full schedule can be found here.