This gender-swapped update of Brecht’s 1940 comedy, Mr Puntila and His Man Matti, is less than the sum of its individually shining parts.
Elaine C Smith’s performance in the title role of the wealthy landowner, now Mrs Puntila, has a Jekyll and Hyde quality. When sober, she’s viciously anti-worker, when drunk, she’s a friend-of-the-people. There is little to differentiate between the two versions, but that says more about director Murat Daltaban’s attitude to the play’s politics than Smith’s performance.
Steve McNicoll gives a standout performance as her servant Matti. His lethargic, almost meandering, physical presence complements his deadpan delivery, whichever mistress he is serving. It’s hard to conceive of anyone else in the role, the way McNicoll owns it, be it drawing in Joanne McGuinness’ exaggerated Eva with his wry compassion, supporting the men to whom Mrs Puntila has offered jobs, or simply cajoling his mistress.
Tom Piper’s big frame-work set, bedecked with the accoutrements of a Highland hunting lodge, is brilliantly conceived and executed, and Oguz Kaplangi’s music provides a link to the 1940s.
The eight-strong chorus help inject a sense of dynamism into the production, and Denise Mina’s updated text – stuffed with contemporary references and one-liners – is spot on, particularly in the way she brings comedy into play. But it also dawdles at times and Daltaban’s production does little to address this. Despite the committed performances, it feels sluggish and overlong.