Oor Wullie review – help ma boab, it's a braw musical!

Dundee Rep
The Scottish comic-strip transfers to the stage in a witty show addressing cultural anxieties about belonging, driven by a rock, gospel and bhangra score

It would be a stretch to call it a Brexit play, but this musical homage to the DC Thomson comic strip is driven by a cultural anxiety that suggests a divided nation. On the one hand, you have a character so iconic he seems the very definition of Scottishness; Oor Wullie has been getting into scrapes in Auchenshoogle, a town where you’ll never get far without a tartan bunnet and a set of bagpipes, since his Sunday Post debut in 1936.

On the other hand, you have a Peter Pan-like child who, after 80 years in print, has never grown up. To the average youngster, Wullie’s world of catapults, tucked-in jumpers and benign policemen is as alien as his “jings, crivvens, help ma boab” turns of phrase.

When the same creative team tackled the Broons in 2016, playwright Rob Drummond turned this timelessness into an existential crisis. In that show, the characters dared to contemplate change – and became all the more alarmed at the thought.

Martin Quinn as Oor Wullie and Eklovey Kashyap as Wahid.
Star turns … Martin Quinn as Oor Wullie and Eklovey Kashyap as Wahid. Photograph: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

This time, with Scott Gilmour writing the book and lyrics, the question is about the definition of a nation. “We’re world class at making people feel welcome,” says Irene Macdougall’s teacher about the Scots. The irony is that she’s talking to Wahid (Eklovey Kashyap) who, being born in Scotland, does not need her welcome. Facing down the racist bullying of his classmates, Wahid turns to an Oor Wullie annual. There he finds a monocultural landscape where the philosophy is nonetheless an all-embracing “Oor Wullie! Your Wullie! A’body’s Wullie!” No longer the outsider, he finds a sense of definition in this two-dimensional world.

It is a world in which the greatest drama is the theft of Wullie’s famous pail (“Ma braw wee bonnie bucket”), and there are times when the stakes feel too low to sustain our interest. But Andrew Panton’s production compensates with wit and verve, the cast launching into Claire McKenzie’s magpie score with gusto as it switches from rock to gospel to bhangra. There are star turns throughout, none more so than Martin Quinn in the title role, hair spiked punkishly, boots turned in coyly and, despite his tearaway status, always ready to burst into tears.

• At Dundee Rep until 5 January. Then touring until 14 March.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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