Neither God Nor Angel (Traverse 5 – 9 April ’16)

Jimmy Chisholm as James VI and Gavin Wright as William. Photo: Leslie Black

Jimmy Chisholm as James VI and Gavin Wright as William.
Photo: Leslie Black

“To an eloquent vocabulary!”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

4th in this Spring’s season of a Play, a Pie and a Pint.

Union (2014), Tim Barrow’s second play, was full of the joys of the Referendum campaign – vigorous, disputatious, even romantic. Neither God Nor Angel, his third, is not ‘Union the prequel’ (by a century), but more of a light amuse-bouche to that earlier rich and hearty fare. This is a waggish two-hander, chummier, a pawky chamber piece.

It is an entertaining fact that James VI, King of Scotland, must have spent some part of the night of April 4th 1603 in Holyrood wondering what it was going to be like to be James I of England (& Ireland) to boot. He was away to London the following morning. Did he blow hot and cold about the whole enterprise? The Incarnation probably sprang to the mind of this godly, seriously literate and absolute monarch who, in 1598 and blessedly free of irony, wrote of ‘the Reciprock and Mutuall Dutie betwixt a free King and his naturall Subiectes’. Let there then steal upon the scene, for the purposes of comic wrangling over glasses of good Rhenish wine, one such subject.

Levity, clearly, is heaven-sent. Enter gawky William (Gavin Wright) to cheek and cheer his King, who has been in peevish sorts. James (Jimmy Chisholm) welcomes – and would embrace in all innocence – the impertinent company of a serving man. Better William, any day, than those ‘devious bastards, the bankers, with their velvet draped bollocks’; and so the toast, raised by His Majesty, ‘To an eloquent vocabulary!’

William speaks Leith and James, crowned at thirteen months, speaks privilege with moments of dainty Morningside. “Would you ken where yon bottle is hid?” might well be an habitual question in Hermitage Gardens but the interesting parts, in amidst the humour, is the forgotten or unfamiliar history: Royal pal Esmé Stewart is pined for; recall of Gowrie and the Ruthven raid shakes the King; his wife, Anne of Denmark, is cherished; and William is sacked for spilling wine on John Ramsay’s silk doublet, which could have happened. I liked all this, almost as much as the use of quill on paper.

It’s a good title, Neither God Nor Angel, provided you can accept that the king’s a man for a’ that, which he ain’t really. Director Ryan Dewar and his two actors do very well with this pithy play of make-believe.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 5 April )

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