Review: Para Handy Festival Theatre

Para Handy Festival Theatre****

MORE than a century has passed since Neil Munro’s tales of the Vital Spark and the adventures of its rumbustious crew first appeared in print. So, just how would a stage version fare today?

Pretty well, as it happens. Such is the quality of the classic tales, with their whimsical but well-established characters, that the Vital Spark is all but unsinkable.

The personalities are well-known within Scottish culture. The irrepressible Para Handy (Jimmy Chisholm), along with his crew of Dougie (George Drennan), engineer Macphail (Peter Kelly) and dopey little Sunny Jim the cabin boy (Sandy Nelson) ply the west coast, delivering goods from Glasgow to the Highland lochs and west coast islands.

It’s a fine theme for cosy, quirky tales. But it’s going to need a bit more if it’s going to work on stage. Which is why director John Bett has added an original musical score by Robert Pettigrew to stitch the little stories together. And it all works rather well.

It’s hardly full steam ahead stuff; more of an endearing sail across tranquil waters, a relaxing and amusing voyage that exactly hits the spot.

The outrageously talented cast bring unfeigned zeal to a wonderful script, from the modern-day opening at Inverberg Council Recycling Plant to the joyful closing numbers that have the feet tapping and sections of the audience singing along.

A pair of video screens are used throughout to great effect, relaying black and white footage of old Clyde scenes. Meanwhile, the band on the stern of the boat deliver superb musical “chunes” that exactly match the mood of each tale, from the anecdote of the Cumbrae Cockatoo to the awkward romantic aspirations of Para Handy towards The Baker’s Widow, whose “buns are legendary”.

Chisholm plays Para Handy with a light comic touch that occasionally veers towards farce and pantomime, but never crosses the line. The overall result produces chortles and belly laughs, while leaving you in no doubt that even after the curtain has fallen, the little puffer and her crew are still out there creating their own little piece of havoc on the open waters.


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It all adds up to a thoroughly delightful feel-good romp that delivers gentle humour, some great songs, and will leave you still smiling for a long time after you exit the theatre.

Run ends tomorrow