This might be a post for any non-Scottish readers who’ve ever wondered what the chuff I’m on about when I talk about Paw Broon.
The Broons, y’see, are Scotland’s Favourite Family. But then, you knew that already.
Last Thursday, I went to the Perth Concert Hall to watch a new play, The Broons: Maggie’s Wedding, for a review for The Edinburgh Reporter…
The review is here. It doesn’t get too deeply into my more personal reflections on the show, because that’s not really the point, is it? But I have been continuing to think about it. I’m definitely going to drag my own Paw Broon and Mrs Stroke Bloke to see it when it comes to Edinburgh.
For anyone who doesn’t know, The Broons are the family featured in an eponymous comic strip in Scots published in The Sunday Post. The strip has been running since 1936, so it’s a bit of a national institution.
I have to admit, I was a bit unsure of the kind of night I was going to have when I walked into the theatre. Scottish historian Tom Nairn once famously said
Scotland will not be free until the last minister is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post.
And you can see his point. The Post is inherently conservative with a small ‘c’. To illustrate, columnist Francis Gay has been writing his column My Week featuring sentimental stories and a weekly short poem since the 1920s. Seriously.
And the main plot of The Broons: Maggie’s Wedding is driven by Maw Broon’s desire to keep everything the way it’s always been. Regular readers will recognize that this doesn’t really jibe with the Stroke Bloke outlook on life. Y’know – Is this the best we can do? Should we just settle?
Still, it’s understandable. Maw’s been living in the same world since 1936. As any stroke survivor (and any recent visitor to my former adoptive homeland) will testify, change – a different world – can be scary.
Although of course, Maw’s world is different in Maggie’s Wedding. As Hen Broon wails,
I’m not a two-dimensional character! I’m a human being!
One of the great things about the show is that the characters of the Broon family are a little more complex during a night of theatre than they can afford to be over the course of a short comic strip. And at the same time,
[p]laywright Rob Drummond and director Andrew Panton have consumed Broons material from all of the family’s nine decades, and the characters ring true to their two-dimensional counterparts.
Similarly, the message of The Broons is a little more complicated in my head. The Broons are a family that have adapted over the decades such that they can still fill a modern theatre in Perth in 2016. As I was talking to my own Paw Broon today, I was even reflecting on my days working on a deal with a paper mill that was about to be hit by the downturn in the newspaper industry, and speculating on how the Broons might evolve to survive the industry’s eventual death. Their themes of comic misunderstandings and generation gaps are timeless and universal, after all.
In fact, The Sunday Post might inadvertently have been more radical that anyone thought. Generations of Scottish kids have learned Scots by reading The Broons, and that’s kind of ahead of its time.
If you think Gaelic or Scots are irrelevant to you that’s fine. But you don’t have a right to insist they’re irrelevant to everyone else too
— Paul Kavanagh (@weegingerdug) October 1, 2016
I even sang Ally Bally Bee – which featured in Maggie’s Wedding and was sung along to by the audience – to my American daughter when she was wee. In fact, the programme for Maggie’s Wedding has a braw wee Broonsian Dictionary of Scots.
That nursery rhyme wasn’t the only thing the audience sang along with on Thursday. The night ended with a bit of a musical theatre jukebox of Scottish pop songs, from The Bay City Rollers to The Proclaimers (who even got a wee joke to themselves in the show). There was a sense of shared experience that was nice.
Now, particularly in the wake of Brexit and the Trump tsunami, I’m not saying that nationalism in and of itself is a good thing. And of course, we tend to be blind to our own nationalism. Think of the Brexiteers who would were decrying Scottish nationalism a couple of years ago. I’m sure that people who support Trump in all his American nationalism wouldn’t characterize themselves as Christianist extremists or “so-called Republicans”.
Without wanting to get too Thought For The Day on you, I guess the lesson is, things change and we should be open to change with them. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll stop banging on about independence for Scotland.