REVIEW: Whisky Galore


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Whisky Galore


The story of Whisky Galore will be well known to many from the classic Ealing comedy film of the 1940s which was adapted from the novel by Compton Mackenzie. 

It was itself based on a real incident that occurred in February 1941 when the SS Politician ran aground in the Outer Hebrides with a cargo that included 264,000 bottles of Scotch whisky.

This production adds another layer of distance from the original by making the whole thing a tribute to the Osiris Players, an all-female troupe of actors who toured the country between the wars, bringing theatre to the backwaters of Britain.

Whisky Galore

Performing an essentially male story with a company made up entirely of women might seem an odd thing to do. It is certainly a brave undertaking, with a mere seven actors dividing up over 20 characters between them and some characters even being played by more than one actor.

There are some outstanding turns, notably Christine Mackie playing both the charming Doctor Maclaren and the delightfully cantankerous old battleaxe Mrs Campbell, and Shuna Snow as Fred Odd, but the performances are not universally strong and there are some bewilderingly impenetrable accents to contend with.

After the main action, the ‘liberation’ and concealment of the shipwrecked
whisky by the wily islanders, the play finishes with a double wedding in which one half of one of the couples is necessarily missing because he/she is doubling up as the other half of the other couple. A wedding with only seven people in attendance seems a rather sober affair, given the amount of whisky sloshing about on the island by then, so the ending is a bit of an anticlimax.

That said, the play makes for an amusing, if not hilarious, evening out. The closeness of the islanders, their relationships and their disdain for the English officers stationed there are well conveyed, as is the distress of a Hebridean community deprived of a single drop of whisky by wartime austerity measures.

Patrick Connellan’s set works beautifully, with a series of boxes that transform readily into ships, jetties, rowing boats, bars and cars, and the actors manage their quick changes of costume and their handling and deliberate mishandling of the props with skill and ease. The bumpy car ride across the island is particularly well done.

As ever at Salisbury Playhouse, the programme is well worth a read, providing fascinating and informative accounts of the background to the story, the life and times of Compton Mackenzie and the history of the Osiris Players.