Union – theatre review

Union is an exploration of the events of 1707 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Review by Melissa Steel


The independence referendum might seem like a unique opportunity to decide Scotland’s future, but as Union proves, there is nothing new about butting heads with the Auld Enemy.

The play follows the run-up to the 1707 union of England and Scotland through the eyes of the high and the low: queens and courtiers on the one hand and poets and prostitutes on the other. In playwright Tim Barrow’s creation, all of them have their passionate views, but almost all of them have their price, too.

It is a testament to the skill of lighting effects designer Chris Davey and video artist Andrzej Goulding that the action transitions so easily from a down-and-out Edinburgh tavern to an opulent palace, familiar streaks of rain replaced by ornate wallpaper and various treasures.

Barrow’s dialogue, although arguably having a political agenda, is also surprisingly restrained in this age of political rants on Facebook and Twitter. There is a message, but it is left for you to decode, rather than being rammed down your throat.

However, it would have been nice to see more nuance in the play’s action to reflect this. The sexual content of the play has been widely discussed already, but surely there was a more subtle way to communicate this than what appeared to be the violent rubbing of any oblong object, real or imaginary.

Despite this, it is a fun couple of hours, but I did find my interest in the poet-and-the-prostitute love story between Allan Ramsay (Josh Whitelaw) and Grace (Sally Reid) waning in the second half. Instead, I was thinking about how much fun a night out with the determined drunk and moral black hole that was the Duke of Queensberry (Liam Brennan) would be. He could easily have slithered out of an episode of Blackadder for a night at the theatre.

Union is a flirtatious and controversial drama that, just like anything to do with the independence debate, is bound to divide opinion.

Like this? Try this:

• Union playwright Tim Barrow: ‘The drama of 1707 is incredible’

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