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Whisky Galore review at Coliseum Theatre, Oldham – ‘enjoyably bright and breezy’

Christine Mackie and Isabel Ford in Whisky Galore at Coliseum Theatre, Oldham. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes Christine Mackie and Isabel Ford in Whisky Galore at Coliseum Theatre, Oldham. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

In some ways you can’t really go wrong with Whisky Galore, Compton Mackenzie’s cheery wartime tale of wily Outer Hebrides islanders banding together to stop the authorities from recovering 50,000 bottles of liquor washed up on their shores.

Mackenzie’s 1947 book provided the template for one of Ealing Studios’ best-loved and most archetypal films. And Kevin Shaw’s warm-hearted co-production between the Coliseum, Hull Truck and New Vic channels its charm to enjoyable affect.

What it isn’t, however, is as well-plotted. Philip Goulding’s adaptation retains the authenticity of Mackenzie’s mellifluous prose and wittily divvies up 26 characters among a hard-working cast of seven. But, where the Ealing comedy masterfully wove the warring families and star-crossed lovers into the aftermath of the shipwreck, this takes rather too long setting things up – taking an hour for the ship to pitch up and then not moving the action along nearly quickly enough when it finally does.

Having the play performed by a fictitious all-female troupe of players – inspired by the very real Osiris Players, who brought Shakespeare to Britain’s church halls in the middle of the 20th Century – is a nice touch, but this framing device isn’t mined for its full comic potential.

Most of the humour, then, comes from the entertainingly haphazard staging, with Patrick Connellan’s ingenious barge-like boxes folding out to create ships, cars and quaysides, and the cast transforming seamlessly into a gaggle of distinctly drawn characters, with Christine Mackie standing out with contrasting turns as the suave Doctor Maclaren and the redoubtable battleaxe Mrs Campbell.

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An enjoyably bright and breezy – if rather too languid – retelling of a classic comic tale