Alistair Beaton’s play, for The National Theatre of Scotland, tells the story of the ill-fated Darien enterprise to establish a Scottish trading colony in Panama. The resultant failure lead to 2000 souls being lost and precipitated the Act of Union with England. Of course, then as now, big business and bankers win out at the expense of the common man and that message comes through clearly in a rather obvious way.
The first act history lesson takes a long time to explain how the expedition came about. It is a serious and fascinating story, which is sometimes told straight and at other times in panto style. Lack of a cohesive style is a problem. Paul Higgins gives a dignified performance as William Paterson, instigator of the disastrous scheme and founder of The Bank of England.
There are some beautiful visual moments in Anthony Neilson’s production but the whole is rather unsatisfactory, lacking in drive and drama. The jokes about hard drinking, Edinburgh/Glasgow rivalry, Scottish/English rivalry, greedy politicians, are funny enough but say nothing new. Like the venture capitalist Darien scheme, it doesn’t quite add up.