Review: Union, Royal lyceum

Union by Tim Barrow. Picture: Comp
Union by Tim Barrow. Picture: Comp
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WITH the independence referendum looming, there are no prizes for guessing the motivation behind the programming of the Royal Lyceum’s latest work, Tim Barrow’s brutally bawdy Union.

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Set in a “dive” off the Royal Mile, Kensington Palace (the abode of Queen Anne), the Scotiish Parliament and the Grassmarket, it follows poet Allan Ramsey as he lives through the turbulent times of 1707, and the lead-up to the Act of a Union, which saw Scotland and England unite under one flag.

Needless to say, audiences will take from this what they will, but, politics aside, the play’s the thing and Barrow’s debut for the Grindlay Street theatre is a fruity piece, with a strong first act and meandering second.

Deftly directed by Mark Thomson, with design by Andrzej Goulding, whose revolving scenery is brought to life by projected backdrops, Union is easy on the eye. Barrow’s language is colourful, witty and of the streets. It paints larger-than-life characters requiring just the right level of heightened performance, without straying into pantomime.

Throughout, however, the stage belongs to Liam Brennan’s delightfully duplicitous Duke of Queensberry. He understands the difference between being foppish and being camp. And relishes his every line.

Ifan Meredith, as English spy Daniel Defoe, is nicely truthful, too.

As mad Queen Anne, Irene Allan warms to her role as the evening progresses, as does Sally Reid as the prostitute lover of Ramsey. Elsewhere, Josh Whitelaw’s poet bellows his lines, while Rebecca Palmer’s Sarah Churchill jars.

At two hours and 50 minutes, including a 20-minute interval, Union could do with a few snips, especially in the over-long second act. That aside, some strong performances and a genuinely accessible approach to history make this production well worth a look.

• Run ends April 12