The London premiere of Iain Heggie’s Edinburgh success, The Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer, gets the autumn season at the Finborough off to a cracking start. The play is a one-act monologue set in Glasgow in 1785 and follows the fortunes of small-time lawyer Enoch Dalmellington, played by Callum Cuthbertson.
Enoch, and the play, are haunted by a soothsayer called Madam Zapata who has visions of life in 2009; this device positions a contemporary voice in the past to dissect the paradoxes of the present.
Heggie’s dialogue, combined with Liz Carruthers’s direction, allow the centripetal movement of Enoch, a character with a naturally conservative and strongly moral disposition, to pull against the centrifugal force of the period’s desire for economic expansion. Whilst most of the figures described by Enoch travel the world, Enoch himself is increasingly circumscribed, forced into the attic of his beloved house in order to rent the lower floors due to financial hardship.
He simultaneously struggles to adjust to his dependence on global connectedness. Enoch’s fate is entwined with events occurring the other side of the globe, firstly by pirates in the Caribbean who loot a ship he has invested in – causing Enoch to react with utter disbelief to Madam Zapata’s prophesy that in 2009 pirates will be idealised – and secondly by the outcome of the American civil war, which proves to be Enoch’s saving grace.
Callum Cuthbertson, who takes over the role of Enoch from Benny Young and John Bett, is exceptional. His Enoch is at once lovable, foolish and very human.
The set is simply yet eloquently designed by Gordan Bovi and Tyler Collins and allows director Liz Carruthers to use an open book prop as a means for Cuthbertson to draw attention to the private and public issues facing Enoch and Glasgow.
Heggie explores the impact that global forces have on individual lives as “square receptacles” replace the town crier and “automated carriages” replace the horse and cart. This is a witty and intelligent play that is unafraid to take on big issues and provides a barrel of laughs whilst doing so.
- James Magniac