Showing @ King’s Theatre until 26th Aug 19:30, Book Tix here
Forgotten amongst the lachrymose remembrances of Bannockburn, Culloden and Wallace Darien played a more important part in Scotland’s political history than any of them but because it fails to fit neatly with our cultural myths it has been almost erased from the national memory.
This attempt by a group of Scottish business men to turn this small, poverty ridden nation into an imperial power was doomed from the start and bad choices, the deliberate lack of support by the King and its opposition by foreign powers made its tragic end and the consequences for Scotland’s independence inevitable.
Alistair Beaton’s play takes this orphan of the history books and breathes colourful life into it. The characters are vividly drawn and played and this production captures both the euphoria and despair of the time perfectly.
The performances were excellent; Paul Higgins as William Paterson, the driving force of Darien, compelling in both his cocksure arrogance, his decent into tragedy and Kurtz-like madness in the Panamanian jungle. The remainder of the cast delivered Beaton’s wry witty and powerful dialogue with verve and passion. Paul Blair was a particular standout embodying Scotland’s Presbyterian soul as Borland and Cliff Burnett had a ball with the vicious snobbery of William III.
There were musical numbers throughout and such were the quality of the tunes it’s difficult to shake the idea that somewhere down the line Beaton and director Anthony Neilson had to be forcefully persuaded against going the full musical route.
The pace was kept vigorous by Neilson, the constant movement reflecting the new energised Scotland full of its own potential and prospective power, things only slowing during the tragic denouement in Darien itself and the set by Peter McKintosh was simple and witty and provided a perfect framework for the performances.
Present day comparisons are laid on too thickly, and particularly towards the end this has the twinge of an old school polemic, however it doesn’t take away from the intrinsic strengths of this production and anyone who wishes to escape the shortbread tin mentality of Scottish History should journey to Caledonia.