In the eighty years since the comic strip was first published in The Sunday Post, Oor Wullie has become ‘Scotland’s favourite son’. The dungaree wearing, spiky haired, cheeky chappy is never far from mischief, and now his exploits have been brought in to the 21st century in Oor Wullie The Musical, a co-production from Selladoor, Dundee Rep, and original publishers DC Thomson.
Following a run at Dundee Rep, the Musical is now on National Tour. Directed by Andrew Panton, the adaptation and a succession of catchy songs come from Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie, known collectively as Noisemaker.
The first act is set not in Wullie’s hame toon o’ Auchenshoogle, but in an unnamed modern Scottish town. Wahid (Eklovey Kashyap), born in Scotland to Pakistani parents faces every day casual racism, frequently asked questions like where is he from. He finds comfort in the school library, where Dudley (a nod to one of Oor Wullie’s original creators) gives him an Oor Wullie annual.
The annual, it turns out, is a portal to another dimension, spitting Wullie, his gang, and P.C. Murdoch out in to Wahid’s world. Wullie has lost his famous bucket and Wahid agrees to help him track it down before bully Basher Mackenzie can get her hands on it, with the pair becoming fast friends throughout their adventure.
It is in the second act, when a trip back through the portal returns everyone to Auchenshoogle, that the production comes alive with colour, and Kenneth Macleod’s comic book inspired set gets to show off what it can do. The songs too are more memorable, with one in particular causing riots of laughter as the gang take a trip in Wullie’s Wagon, a scene that will remind many audience members of another flying car that’s been on stage.
Even as a Scot, I struggled a little with those thick North East accents, but it would have been impossible to bring Oor Wullie to life without them, and he’s been brought to life exceptionally well. Usually at the sharp end of Wullie’s pranks, P.C. Murdoch (Ann Louise Ross) becomes, if only temporarily, part of the gang in order to save the bucket and it continues the theme of inclusivity and Scotland as a welcoming nation, pulling together to do the right thing.
Bailey Newsome and Grant McIntyre keep the audience hilariously entertained as Soapy Souter and Wee Eck respectively, as does Dan Buckley in the role of Boab. As is often the case in the comics, the boys are often outwitted by the only female member of the gang, Primrose, played fantastically well here by Leah Byrne. Martin Quinn has captured not only the personality of Wullie, but the physical attributes too, his turned in feet and cheeky smile make it feel like this little scamp truly has jumped right off the page.
To be based on a comic strip that has lasted eighty years, Oor Wullie The Musical manages to be contemporary at the same time as feeling familiar, the characters we know and love are still surrounded by the tartan and tradition of old, but facing the problems of today. A heartwarming and inspiring story, wrapped up in mad-cap comedy and delightful songs to thrill the whole family.
Oor Wullie The Musical is on tour until 11th March 2020.
Main Image Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan