Mcgonagall’s Chronicles- Traverse Theatre

In writing a review for a show on McGonagall,
It only seems fair, if slightly comical,
To go to the trouble it,
Would take to write in rhyming couplet. 
So that is the method I might be employing,
If only it didn’t seem quite so annoying.

That gimmick got old quickly, didn’t it? Now imagine that for an hour. That is the problem faced by Gary McNair’s McGonagall’s Chronicles. It only makes sense, when delivering the biography of famously poor poet William McGonagall, to write it in rhyming couplets, but it is not something that can be sustained. Whilst initially amusing, the anachronistic references and strains at rhyme become a matter of repeating the same joke ad nauseum (I counted ‘wage’ being rhymed with ‘stage’ at least three times). This was mimicked in the audience’s slowly dwindling reception of the techniques employed.

This is not to say this is not an enjoyable show, just one that does not live up it’s potential. Writer/star McNair (creator of the wonderful ‘Donald Robertson is not a stand up comedian’ that I have previously reviewed) is a talented actor, jumping in and out of character as the seminal poet with charming ease, and the musical backing is legitimately enjoyable. Further, McGonagall’s tale as a working class immigrant attempting to break free of the loom, but not having the talent required, is incredibly moving (although that may be my inner working class poet over-empathising). The closing monologue that asks whether the possibly autistic McGonagall may have even been self-aware enough to attempt to simply cash in on his literary infamy is also fascinating.

Sadly, however, this is often overpowered by the mimicking of the poet’s style of verse employed unflinchingly throughout, and an over-reliance on suggesting a rude rhyme before undercutting it with a perfectly innocent alternative. This is a fascinating insight into the life of an often cruelly mocked man, however your enjoyment may be tempered by how irritating you find AABB rhyme schemes.

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Scott Redmond

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