Premiering almost six months to the day before this autumn’s Scottish Independence Referendum, it feels as though erstwhile filmmaker and screenwriter Tim Barrow’s Union has fired the starting gun on issues which have scarcely been discussed in Scottish theatre until now.
Yet it looks backwards rather than ahead, with Barrow’s sprawling and ambitious ensemble period piece detailing the events leading up to the final Act of Union between Scotland and England in 1707.
It depicts a time of corruption, intrigue and no little eccentricity, with Liam Brennan’s bribed and torrentially foul-mouthed Duke of Queensberry spinning machinations while the English Queen Anne (Irene Allan) appears driven mad by her inability to bear children.
‘The Thick of It in tights’ might be a good description for this character-led tale of political intrigue, although the tightrope between humour and drama isn’t so finely-trodden. Director Mark Thomson presides over a beautiful-looking production, with designer Andrzej Goulding’s video-enhanced backdrop and Philip Pinsky’s continual ambient soundtrack lending gravity, even as the near three-hour text often works hard to rein in its own ambition, sometimes unsuccessfully.
In the core tale of hopeful poet Allan Ramsay’s (Josh Whitelaw) relationship with prostitute Grace (Sally Reid), however, lies a stark metaphorical assertion that in love as in the politics of the time, money rules the heart.
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