Watson's Wind Up Live

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Jay Richardson

Conceived as Watson’s Wind Up’s belated swansong, after the irreverent, topical satire was cancelled by BBC Radio Scotland when it reached its tenth anniversary last year, tonight’s performance an suggest there’s life in the format yet.

Essentially Scotland’s answer to the Edinburgh-born, English-based Rory Bremner – if he took an interest in football and the quirks of STV News presenters –  Jonathan Watson is an exceptionally gifted mimic who used to record the show at Glasgow’s main arthouse cinema for a live audience. Transferred to the grander Citizens Theatre for this one-off, and clocking in at around 90 minutes, the show has clearly benefitted from drawing on stored material that wasn’t compiled in a week.

The fact that the show used to solicit script submissions was a strength, producing a variance in tone perhaps less evident tonight. However, relying on core writers Phil Differ (who also produces), Rikki Brown, Rab Christie and John McGlade does ensure big Scottish stories like the Tommy Sheridan swingers’ club trial can be really developed and wrung dry for laughs, with the socialist MSP erecting a legal defence based on his abduction by aliens.

A gag on the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, has obvious global resonance when Libya is dominating the news. Otherwise though Watson’s Wind-Up is targeted very specifically at a Scottish audience or is gloriously, unashamedly parochial.

For a taste of just how specific it gets, a running gag is the perceived Rangers bias of BBC Scotland sports reporter Chic Young. That’s a familiar observation north of the border but largely unremarked upon elsewhere I’d wager. Of all the experts to comment on the radiation leaks at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, Ross County manager Jimmy Calderwood is a singular choice, especially as the joke relies on his previous employment at Aberdeen. Mind you, Watson’s recreation of Dennis Law’s dulcet speech patterns virtually demands inclusion for its velvet tones alone.

Supported by Brian Pettifer and Julie Austin, the laughs benefit immensely from Watson’s attuned ear for those he’s spoofing. There are some broad character assassinations that abandon all claims to subtlety, most memorably his Cathy Jamieson MP bitching at great length about Scotland’s deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon. With big personalities like Sheridan or George Galloway, Watson has the opportunity to hone in on a tic or trait and push them to ridiculous extremes, his suavely opportunist Gorgeous George deserving a much better punchline on which to take his departure.

In the main, whether as simple set-up and punchline exchanges o or extended STV news bulletins, cramming in as many topical and not-so-topical angles as possible, the jokes tend to stand or fall on their own merits. Pairing the violent delinquents of Peter Mullan’s film Neds with Gerard Butler’s 300 Spartans in a fight against the Romans of ropey epic The Eagle, with all the connotations Rome evokes in religiously divided Glasgow, provokes some wonderfully brash exchanges.

At times, especially when Watson is left to perform solo, it can feel like routines are too jerryrigged around his repertoire, the football skits especially feeling like an inevitable roll-call of the great, the good and the outspoken of the Scottish game. Meatier, more substantial laughs accompany cartoonish but undeniably pressing social critiques of Scottish society, be that sectarianism or the much-heralded ‘Booze Apocalypse’. Still, there’s amusement in daft diversions like the Bus Driver of the Year Awards, recognising outstanding failure in customer service.

Watson’s Wind-Up undoubtedly had its flaws and like any satirical comedy with longevity, arguably become too assured of its position, a little too much part of the furniture. Nevertheless, Scotland needs and deserves a regular, rascally show poking fun at the establishment – and no-one seems better equipped to deliver that yet than Watson and his cohorts.

Review date: 4 Apr 2011
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Glasgow Citizens Theatre

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