Theatre Review: Victoria (Dundee Rep)

Elspeth Brodie as Victoria
Elspeth Brodie as Victoria

It’s been a remarkable few months for David Greig - the Scottish playwright who must surely now be considered the finest of his generation.

First, the musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory he wrote took London’s West End by storm. Then his tense spree-killing drama The Events was one of the biggest hits of the Edinburgh Fringe - landing a multitude of prizes and a New York run.

Now ‘Victoria’, arguably his most ambitious work, has been given a well-deserved revival at the Dundee Rep Theatre - marking the play’s first Scottish showing.

Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2000, there’s something of the Bard of Avon’s taste for epic historical drama in this resolutely Scottish tale.

The running time, at over three-and-a-half hours, is on a grand scale - as is the ambition of three separate acts being spread over 63 years involving over 30 characters. Even the set, with towering mountains in the background and a boat jetty to the fore, is breathtaking.

Opening in a Highland estate in 1936, a pregnant Minister’s daughter called Victoria is planning to flee her homeland with her lover Oscar for a new life in Argentina. Meanwhile the Laird is marrying is new wife who dreams of linking her remote new home to civilisation.

The second act sees a young American geologist crash land in the same estate and fall in love with Oscar’s son Euan.

Finally we meet Vicky, Victoria and Euan’s spoilt daughter, who tries to come to terms with a meaningless life of wanting for nothing.

Each of the stories is a complete play in its own right, but the satisfaction comes in linking the generations and the shifting sands of politics and belief. The idealism of volunteering to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War gives way to first pragmatism, then full-on greed. Echoes through time link the acts together, with repeated lines and actions suggesting aspects of genetic fate taking over the characters - an eternal battle of nature v nurture.

The cast are solid rather than spectacular, but there are particularly great turns by Caroline Deyga and Ncuti Gatwa who play two star-crossed lovers fated to meet repeatedly through the generations.

It’s a feast of a play, flirting with overindulgence but offering plenty of food for thought.