FRINGE REVIEW – The World According to Bertie

*****

Andy Jordan Productions present this adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s novel from the 44 Scotland Street series, complete with Edinburgh locations, the romantic life of various characters, the trials and tribulations of Bertie, aged 6 – the whole focus of his mother’s exalted ambitions – and the need to save a beloved dog from a case of mistaken identity by discovering the true “culprit collie” that is going about biting residents.

Set in the round, reversed, most of the audience sit in the centre of the fire-damaged venue on pink stools around a pink platform that is Bertie’s pink bedroom, built around a structural pillar ingeniously made into his bed. Despite having to adjust position slightly to see the various points, voices were always clear and nothing held stationary for too long, so that, even with the central pillar, important matters were not obscured. Characters walk the streets of Edinburgh by circling the central audience and scenes occur at various outer points on the perimeter.

Each point is simply but clearly dressed, with here a list of settings created so that all McCall Smith’s fans can know which beloved characters appear: Bertie’s home (a poster links both his music and Italian lessons) by the elegant flat of neighbour Domenica Macdonald (which doubles as a restaurant or two) and the fancy door to 44 Scotland Street; the gallery where art student Pat works for owner Matthew, with some well-played relationship shifts that include Bertie’s beloved teacher Elspeth Harmony; the home of rich daddy’s girl Julia, where her relationship with cad Bruce plays out on a sofa; the cleverly dual setting that has a poster of dog with brain that makes this location both painter Angus Lordie’s home and the surgery of Dr Fairbairn, Bertie’s somewhat dubious psychoanalyst. Another, usually clear, point shifts with the use of a podium and a bin, setting Bertie’s father at a watering hole with great simplicity, creating Elspeth’s home or allowing a well-structured confrontation between Bertie’s parents. Lighting supports these scenes well, helpfully directing attention to the correct location, and sound is used sparingly but to effect, including its illustration of the use of the gallery door.

McCall Smith’s stories are character-rich, with wry humour, recognisable situations and – here – real life issues viewed from the highly entertaining perspective of a very bright young boy played by Clark Devlin with sincerity, charm, awkwardness, impatience, insight and fine timing. Bertie’s parents are hardly compatible and their differences are handled well, particularly with regard to their child-rearing and to incidents with Bertie‘s baby brother Ulysses. The relationships of the other characters are also entertainingly and clearly drawn, with times of poignancy, though occasionally the acting was not fully believable – a little over-demonstrated or posed slightly strangely – and there could be more layers to the characters.

In all, The World According to Bertie is highly enjoyable, well-created in design and direction, wonderfully described by Bertie in a script well-adapted for humour, and strongly peopled by characters that can attract, repel, move and exasperate, all while entertaining thoroughly throughout.

By Danielle Farrow

4 – 29 August (not 15), 19:20 (20:40) + 21:00 (22:20) @ C Venues – C soco

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