O is for Hoolet: twee, me, me
O is for Hoolet, Ishbel McFarlane’s one-woman show about the Scots language, shows promise at first. At the beginning, she hands out cards with questions on them to members of the audience. With the houselights up during the entire show, McFarlane answers the questions either as herself or in character, embodying famous figures in linguistics and Scottish culture.
Through exploring the Scots language, the show questions the future of all minority languages. It is strongest when McFarlane speaks as herself. Responding to audience questions, she speaks with immense passion and expert precision. The in-character segments, however, are more laboured. Adopting a comedic posture and speaking in far-fetched accents, the silliness of her performance undercuts the content of her monologues.
That said, the show also suffers when McFarlane puts herself too much at the heart of the piece, acting out moments from her own life as a means of exploring the Scots language in general. It’s a trap many Fringe performers fall into; many seem to think a subject is more interesting when it is woven into their own life story. In truth, it’s just indulgent.
Though scattered with moments of insight, this twee show fails to do its subject justice.
Christian Butler is a writer based in London.
O is for Hoolet is at the Scottish Storytelling Centre until 29 August.
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