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  • Alistair Braidwood

Here's To You, Mrs Stevenson: A Review of National Theatre of Scotland's Kidnapped...

Taking on literary classics can be a tricky. Audiences are likely to not only be familiar with the story, but have their favourite version whether it be book, film, TV series, or. as is the case with Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, comic book or animation. How the National Theatre of Scotland have approached adapting it for the stage is by walking the fine line between respect and irreverence, and it all works beautifully. It also manages to balance comedy and drama so that even as we laugh (and boy, do we laugh) we care about Davie and Alan, and what will happen to them. Do we get a happy ending? That would be telling...

Here is writer and Co-Creator Isobel McArthur to introduce you to Kidnapped in a manner which hints at the tone of the show:

There are two stories unfolding on stage - Stevenson's well-kent tale of the orphan David Balfour and his relationship with the charismatic highlander Alan Breck - but also that of Mrs Stevenson. Frances "Fanny" Matilda Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson ( to give her magnificent full name) appears on stage in all her mourning glory, often with guitar in hand, to tell us about her complex and often arduous life to this date. A writer herself, she describes how that life and those who shared it fed into Kidnapped and what unfolds is a fascinating biography of a woman even devoted readers of R.L. Stevenson didn't know existed. As the adventures of Davie and Alan unfold it's her story that lends the production empathy it may not have had otherwise.

The cast are having as good a time as the audience as they sing, dance, and act their hearts out. Kim Ismay is both stoic and charismatic as Frances, conveying the strength of character that would have been essential to live the life she had. Ryan J. Mackay and Malcolm Cumming as Davie and Alan respectively both inhabit their characters thoroughly, with Mackay making his Balfour initially innocent and guileless, but discovering strength he didn't realise he had. Cumming's Breck is every inch the debonair Jacobite - with a dash of New Romantic for good measure. The rest of the Ensemble all have their moments to shine - it is with them that the comedy is to be found - but there is never a doubt that everyone involved is in this together.

The music (played by those on stage - another reason that this feels like a great night out) is spot on - 1970's & 80's classics delivered in a variety of styles. We get Talking Heads' 'Road To Nowhere' (including a Gaelic version), Erasure's 'Respect', Yazoo's 'Only You', Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush's 'Don't Give Up', Average White Band's 'Pick Up The Pieces (with kazoos!) and more, and there were more than a few people near me humming, or even singing, along. And the choice of song for the finale is perfect.

Magical set-pieces, such as an under-the-sea sequence, a night at a Highland hot spot where drinking, dancing, and gambling are positively insisted upon, and the cave dwelling of a chilled-out Clan Chief, are brought to life with invention and wit. The set and costumes are an inspired mix of traditional and modern. There are metal road signs, animated maps, bucket hats and skip caps, but there are enough nods to the Scotland of the day to keep you rooted in time and place. Again, the balance is just right.

At the heart of everything is Stevenson's impeccable storytelling which allows such a colourful and vibrant adaptation to work, lending an emotional and literary anchor. Kidnapped is just about as much fun as you can have in a theatre. If you are looking to be thoroughly entertained for an evening it ticks every box. Prepare to have your swash well and truly buckled.

Some images from Kidnapped (Photographer: Mihaela Bodlovic)

Tour Dates:

Wed, 5th April 2023 to Sat, 8th April 2023

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Tue, 11th April 2023 to Sat, 22nd April 2023

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Tue, 25th April 2023 to Sat, 29th April 2023

Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Wed, 3rd May 2023 to Sat, 6th May 2023

Perth Theatre, Perth

Tue, 9th May 2023 to Sat, 13th May 2023

Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne


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