Walking into The Space @Niddry Street, you are met with a love letter to Scottish pride; the stage is drenched in a blue and yellow wash. Bagpipes make for a powerful start to this production, the aesthetic immersion forming a cohesive identity for Student Theatre at Glasgow’s 2018 Fringe show Ah Dinnae Ken. Ah Dinnae Ken revolves around the issue of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, and in this production a second referendum has been proposed with two opposing families poised against each other, vying for control of the country’s fate. As someone who isn’t Scottish, I’m excited to see what both sides have to say. I know there are pros and cons to each choice and it’s a conflict that could lend itself to some sharp political satire. The trouble for this production however, is that it never seems to master a fair argument. The families (Yellow being pro-indy and Blue being against) are curiously not depicted equally. It’s troubling in that only one has the idea to murder their Blue neighbours and secure the vote; you’d expect this to be a balanced conflict. It’s true there was a vote in favour of unity in 2014 and this majority catalyses the plot, but the ignorant and impulsive image the Yellow family are lent is not charitable. Both families being fed up with the opposing voters and as a result, stooping to violent extremes is ostensibly the plot put forward in Ah Dinnae Ken’s marketing. However, by making only the Blue family seem rational, Ah Dinnae Ken takes on an appearance of bias towards certain voters. While taking a stance isn’t inherently a bad idea, it’s distressing when the other side isn’t given fair consideration; it undercuts the darkly comic, satirical edge that this premise could easily have supplied and supplants a watered down, 'good vs. evil' showdown that feels politically deaf.
The comedy of Ah Dinnae Ken mostly comes from its character acting (with notable double-performances from Sam Fraser and Ryan Rutherford,) slapstick elements and relatable family bickering. While this is entertaining, and laughs were certainly had, the political element became sorely underplayed, which was a little disappointing given the potential of the premise. Despite a cohesive aesthetic, the plot never manages to echo that same sense of identity. In addition to presenting a dark political comedy, Ah Dinnae Ken is also a Romeo and Juliet adaptation, and at times the production isn’t sure where to strike the balance between these two, transplanting whole lines of iambic dialogue and pushing its 'lets kill the neighbors' premise to the sideline about half way through in order to focus on the R&J parallel. While it is certainly possible to be both satire and Shakespeare adaptation, a real political commentary, in this production's case, is further obscured by this clunky incorporation of Shakespeare.The immersion is interrupted further by the somewhat jarring musical transitions, though this could easily be a tech issue.
However, what Ah Dinnae Ken might lack in execution it more than makes up for in ambition. It’s staging uses the space to great advantage, boasting some complex transitions and believable double-performances all round. The meticulous costume design is a strong visual reference and Ah Dinnae Ken is at its core a very enjoyable watch. With some revision to the script, (and perhaps axing the single family gimmick for a doubled cast) STaG could be sitting on a mischievous satire, with real bite as well as humour. Ah Dinnae Ken is in The Space @ Niddry street from the 3rd-26th of August at 16:15. Grab a ticket, before they tell you you can’t.
Edited by Robbie Heath