Review: Suffering From Scottishness, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh Fringe

Queuing in the rain and sudden early-evening chill feels like preamble for Suffering From Scottishness. The environment onstage doesn’t get any warmer either, as Joe (played by Kevin P Gilday), the Consultation Representative for governmental department Citizen Scotland, welcomes his audience wearing a tepid smile and tartan tie. As part of a focus group, our task is to design the first ever Scottish Citizenship Test, which prospective residents will have to pass in order to be granted permission to settle. 

A frightening tome of Scottish history and culture almost eclipses a laptop computer, at which Gilday busies himself during promotional videos. These are projected onto a screen behind, to the tune of titters from spectators. As a host, Gilday is entertaining. Highly eccentric, his character’s unreserved (and impressive) love of poetry has a habit of creeping into the narrative. This is in addition to traumas caused as a result of his upbringing, which, one learns, was crafted mainly by the hands of his alcoholic father, in the event of his mother’s passing.  

“Make some noise Edinburgh!” Gilday shouts, excited now. He doesn’t shy away from the underlying absurdities so unique to Scottish identity, probing principally at ideas surrounding nationhood and patriotism. It is the ultimate in civic participation, with audience members waving cards (branded with Aye or Naw) as they cast their votes. There are such buzz words as “Caledonian Antisyzygy” and musical renditions of the weather: cries of howling wind, the beat of lashing rain, and whispers of perturbed heather.

In this, Suffering From Scottishness is at once hilarious and demoralizing. Gilday gives statistics legs and lets them run wild, these facts acting as both a vehicle for his grief and as a cry for change. He does well to search the conscience of his audience, the six Scottish units asking one very important question: are you ashamed of your own culture? It is powerful stuff, though at times seems somewhat depleted. Perhaps it is because of its subject matter, but this production ends up feeling more like a drain than a radiator.

Suffering From Scottishness is playing Assembly Roxy until 25 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.