Victoria at the Barbican Pit
Don't let it be said that British playwrights are not afraid to tackle grand themes any more. In this impressive play, Scottish writer, David Greig deals with the feudal system, Nazism, environmental despoiling, family conflict and the Scottish identity crisis. As one of the characters says, switching on a television set, 'It's the Generation Game'.
Indeed it is, the play (or rather three interlinked plays) looks at the life in a Scottish village at three points of the twentieth century. It mainly focuses on two families: the Allans (the old feudal lairds of the neighbourhood) and the Sutherlands. Only one character, Oscar Sutherland, makes an appearance in all three plays (and in the last, it's only as a ghost).
The Bride, the first play is the most compelling. David, the young laird brings home a new bride. Fired up by Nazism, he artificially inseminates his wife with the sperm of one of the locals, Euan. David is then murdered by Oscar, who escapes with Euan to fight in the Spanish civil war.
In the second play, The Crash, set in 1974, Oscar is now a local councillor, his son, also called Euan, is the successful manager of a pop singer and the new laird, Jimmy, is busy rediscovering the notebooks of David (who of course, he thinks is his father). In the final play, The Mountain, Euan Sutherland is now the successful local businessman demolishing a mountain to produce gravel (in the face of protests from environmentalists) and Oscar dies.
Oscar aside, the real central character in all three plays is Victoria (or rather three Victorias). In the first, she's the minister's daughter, impregnated by Oscar and abandoned when her lover goes to Spain. In the second, she's an American geologist who marries Euan Sutherland, and in the third she's Euan's daughter who learns to respect her grandfather and the land she has come from. These are three very different women and Neve McIntosh handles the difficult task of imbuing them with different personalities well.
Victoria might sound glib but it isn't. This is a strangely haunting evening - evoking a way of life that's long gone and all too familiar at the same time. There are some awkward moments (a naked David, high on Norse mythology, tells his naked servant girl, 'I'm Loki, you're Hildegard', which must be one of the most risible lines this year), and Jimmy Allan is a mere caricature of a hippy. We're also left wondering how Euan Sutherland honed his entrepreneurial skills and developed his showbiz contacts coming from such a small village.
But this is nit-picking. Victoria is as intelligent, powerful and thought-provoking a play as you're likely to see all year. Director Ian Brown and the cast (and in such a strong example of ensemble playing it's unfair to pick out any actor above another) have contrived a fascinating evening. The real tragedy is that the performance was so sparsely attended. This play's not perfect by any means, but it deserves a hearty audience.