REVIEW: ‘Kidnapped’, National Theatre of Scotland

Megan Amato reviews the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Kidnapped.

THE key ingredients for many good stories start with a hapless character down on their luck before meeting the chaotic chancer who will lead them on an adventure far outside their comfort zone.

Described as “a swashbuckling rom-com adventure”, Isobel McArthur and Michael John McCarthy’s camp adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Kidnapped certainly delivered on all these factors.

Scots and those familiar with both the language and placenames will certainly get the most out of this play as the humour is centred around a vert Scottish experience, poking fun at the small towns and villages on this half of the isle with its dry and mischievous signature style.

Each of these moments were well timed as the sold-out audience laughed at the appropriately times. As a non-Scot, there may have been a few moments that went over my head but my seatmates’ glee on each side of me demonstrated that the humour was spot on.

Like the novel, the play begins with newly-orphaned Davie Balfour who, armed with a vague letter from his father, adventures to a mysterious uncle in Cramond — only a two day walk from the Borders, our nonchalant reverend tells him. Once he arrives at the decrepit estate, his uncle is less than accommodating, refuses to answer any of his questions, and of course, has him kidnapped by pirates.

Just because the inept buccaneers don’t like to use the P-word (“pirates”), doesn’t mean our disgruntled hero is any less terrified. But that doesn’t stop him from risking his neck — literally — to save unrepentant Jacobite Alan Breck Stewart, despite their earlier disagreement. It’s here that our romantic adventure begins.

Ryan Mackay’s Davie Balfour is just as delightfully guileless and desperate as you expect a homeless and orphaned 19-year-old boy from a small Scottish village to be. His character development is well-done as he slowly becomes more of an active character in his own story.

Malcolm Cumming is the perfect swaggering romantic hero as Alan Breck Stewart. Brave, brash and beguiling, he easily walks our young Davie into precarious situations and sweet talks him into forgiving him even in life-or-death moments.

An added delight to this adaption was Kim Ismay’s narration and portrayal of American writer and Robert Louis Stevenson’s greatest supporter – and wife – Frances Matilda Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson. Her droll tone recited the up-and-down of her life as she adjusted the actors and setting of the play to suit her and, more often than not, Davie’s needs.

The set was simple but effective, decorated with placename signs, a rock that could easily turn into a cave (practically a character of its own in this play) and a dozen or show simple structures that were efficiently used to set the scene.

The National Theatre of Scotland’s Kidnapped is wonderfully cheeky, unabashedly gay and creative with its blend of traditional story, modern-day music and references that will delight both hardcore fans of Robert Louis Stevenson and those looking for a funny, well-scripted production.

Read more news and reviews on Scottish Field’s culture pages.

Plus, don’t miss author Alexander McCall Smith’s column in the May issue of Scottish Field magazine.