Victoria – ‘Almost Perfect’
My wife and I had the great privilege of attending Dundee Rep’s latest production ‘Victoria’ last week. I am not sure what we expected, except a very long play. We certainly got that, but also a whole lot more.
Victoria is set on a landed estate in Wester Ross with three main acts; Act One The Bride (autumn 1936), Act Two The Crash (spring 1974) and Act Three, The Mountain (summer 1996) with an Entr’acte between acts two and three (set in Spain, winter 1937).
Dundee Rep is a beautiful theatre and usually manages to stage plays with excellent sets; good costume design and with an excellent set of actors. Victoria was no exception. At the beginning we wondered if we were going to last the whole distance – it is after all three act play with two intervals which goes from 7:30 until after 11 – and we are getting old! Initially it was not the length that made we think we might not make it past the first act! I can cope with a bit of swearing and crudity in a play or film, but during the first act it was way OTT. I realise that writers think it makes the play/book/film more earthy/radical/daring. I’m sorry but it doesn’t. Its just offensive and to honest comes across as more than a little childish, like the school boy in the playground boasting as to the big sweary words he can use. It was such a pity because it means that there are many people who won’t be able to go to the play (for example I could not recommend it to any school children). The extent and crudity of the swearing adds nothing to the play (and indeed takes away from it) and excludes some people from something they would otherwise benefit from.
Let me add a Christian aside here. There are those who would say that a Christian (and especially a minister) should have nothing to do with such language and crudity. They may be right but I don’t agree. I don’t endorse crude and violent language, any more than I would endorse racist language, but they are, sadly, part of life. Besides which, why are so many Christians willing to condemn the use of vulgar language, but are apparently happy to turn a blind eye to people being murdered and killed in plays and films? For me almost everything depends on context and necessity. Feel free to disagree – just don’t swear at me!
However we stuck it out and it did get a lot better. The play itself is brilliant. The storyline, characters and dialogue superb. Each act got better. The staging was simple yet very effective. I think however that the most impressive thing about Victoria is that it demonstrated the versatility and ability of each of the actors. For me there was no one star – the whole group were excellent. They had an ability to interact, change roles and even have different believable accents that was impressive. They also got the tone exactly right. They could have hammed it up a bit and played more of it for laughs – but, although there was humour, they resisted that temptation and as a result ended up giving us a portrayal of characters which we could believe.
Those of us who go to Dundee Rep regularly will know that their regular ensemble with actors such as John Buick and Irene MacDougall, are more than capable of handling a variety of roles, but what was especially pleasing, was the new blood. Caroline Deyga and Ncuti Gatwa were superb – I almost wanted to give them a standing ovation alone…they deserved it.
The play itself explores a number of important themes that I am interested in. The Highlands, the relationship between the various social classes, the land and environmentalism, the anti-Christian nature of Nazism and communism, wealth and injustice, relationships, the lost dream of socialism, dreams and illusions, religion and hypocrisy…..and much more. Most of it was done in a thoughtful and relatively uncliched way.
All in all it was a great night – as testified to by the fact that we stayed to the end, and the three and a half hours went by in what seemed half the time. Dundee Rep are to be congratulated for Victoria. It is to be hoped that their boldness in staging such a long and complex play will be rewarded with good sales, and that they will be emboldened to do the same again. Only next time cut down on the unnecessary crudity and it will be perfect!