Spoiling (2 stars)

This article is from 2014


Toothless satire on post-independence Scotland

Undecided voters rolling up up to John McCann’s play about the birth-pains of post-independence Scotland need not worry about their opinions being swayed: they’re likely to be more undecided than ever when the fifty minutes are up.

Directed by the Traverse’s artistic director Orla O’Loughlin, Spoiling is a two-hander between Fiona (Gabriel Quigley), a firebrand who swung the debate for the nationalists, and Henderson (Richard Clements) a UK government lackey who attempts to put pressure on her first speech. Having chosen a red-hot topic, McCann seems to have felt that his work was done. It’s remarkable that his script never lands a punch other than to suggest that politicians are manipulative, a universally acknowledged truth that unaccountably leaves both the supposedly politically savvy characters in this play completely dumbstruck.

Instead McCann ducks the issues in favour of glib Yes Minister-style observations of Anglo-Scottish chicanery, with some The Thick of It swearing thrown in; billed as a satire, this isn't the historically aware Scotland of caustic wits like Henryson, but the toothless, apolitical country of Barrowman and Dunbar, posturing opinion, but defanged and as politically biting as a dancing tea-cake.

That said, both Quigley and Clements do their best to squeeze some interest from their underwritten and poorly-developed characters. Fiona’s pregnancy allows for some heavy-handed symbolism about the birth (or rebirth) of a nation, while Henderson’s contrived interest in geology allows him an equally symbolic speech about the role of fjords in our lives. And there are flickers of interesting sexual politics; Fiona attacks Henderson for his man-child attitude to life (his car was torched by unruly Belfast teenagers and he sports a Buzz Lightyear watch), but her vitriol turns out to be nothing more than an empty provocation.

Spoiling dances around the subject of Scottish independence, and what the consequences might be, without saying anything of note; that this wishy-washy effort is the Traverse’s contribution to the debate, weeks before the crucial decision, suggests a stubborn lack of willingness to engage with the world outside the theatre doors.

Traverse, 0131 228 1404, Until Aug 24, various times £18 (£13)


  • 2 stars

John McCann's drama set in a newly independent Scotland.