Intoxicating as water of life

WHEN the Cameron Mackintosh-led judging panel began looking through the shortlist for a new Highland musical, a few folk must have reckoned north company Right Lines was in with a decent shout.

For a show designed to celebrate the Highland Year of Culture and open Eden Court's new OneTouch Theatre, it ticked all the boxes.

Produced and written by Highland/Moray based duo Euan Martin and Dave Smith, who already had an impressive track record of Highland themed shows including "Who Bares Wins", "The Wedding" and the mash up of Miss Marple and the White Heather Club that was "Accidental Death of an Accordionist", they even centred their show on that most celebrated of Highland icons, usige beatha.

They lost out to Edinburgh set horror comedy "Sundowe", which came and went, but it looks as though Right Lines maybe the ultimate victors from Highland Quest.

Not winning gave Martin and Smith the luxury of time to hone their show, which appropriately launched its recent debut tour at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.

Both part of and playing off that strand of Highland comedy which sees urban sophisticates arrive in a Highland backwater and be captivated by the scenery and laid-back locals think "Local Hero" or "Brigadoon" the plot revolves around a failed whisky distillery which is selling off the only bottle of the 100-year old Glenigma.

This becomes the object of desire for two men with very deep pockets, the Trump-like New York tycoon Ben Munro (George Drennan) and tea-totaller Yomo (Masashi Fujimoto, otherwise known as Mr Banzai from Channel 4 cult comedy "Banzai!"), in Scotland to fulfil one final task for his aged father.

Selling the Glenigma is Mary MacGregor (Alyth McCormack), for whom the precious bottle is the only legacy from her gambler father, aided and abetted by her workers Lachie (Ron Emslie), the only living man to having tasted the Glenigma, Dunc (Paul Harper-Swan) and Alice (Natalie Toyne), an Aussie backpacker who already seems to have succumbed to the area's attractions.

However, just as it seems her multi-millionaire guests are about to solve Mary's financial woes, an unexpected intervention provides a twist in the tale.

Jim Bryant's fine score makes several enjoyable nods to the musical theatre tradition. The opening New York prologue, though slightly overextended, does feature a splendid opening number which would not be out of place in a technicolour MGM musical as Munro's staff persuade him that there is no need to visit Scotland when he can get all the Highland culture he needs at New York's Tartan Day celebrations a number that pays off with a Caledonian re-make for the Statue of Liberty.

It looks as though the writers are to redress the balance as Mary launches into the start of a sentimental "Brigadoon" style hymn of praise to the Highlands, only for Lachie and Dunc to usurp the song and convert it into a light-hearted celebration of whisky, while Trevor Allan Davies as Giles, the man from the Malt Whisky Preservation Society, manages to get his tongue twisting through a fast-paced number that is pure Gilbert and Sulivan.

Well done too to musical director Karen MacIver for bringing Bryce's music alive on stage, but it is a score that cries out for a fuller orchestral treatment. Maybe someone like Inverness Opera Company should add it to their to-do list?

That said, the song which got the biggest reaction was an unaccompanied Gaelic number allowing McCormack, on splendid form throughout, to draw on her Lewis heritage.

Away from the music, Martin and Smith's script was sharp and amusing with one especially good gag about Highland fuel, up-dating the "Brigadoon" template with a hint of gay romance as Ben's camp secretary (Kinny Gardner never failing to raise a smile) falls for Dunc.

Though the happy ending is a little too neat and Fujimoto's character remains a little underdeveloped, "Whisky Kisses" will you feeling as mellow and jolly as sampling a good malt and with less chance of a hangover.


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