REVIEW: Lauder – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

It’s been a dream come true for much-loved Scottish tenor Jamie MacDougall to bring Jimmy Logan’s ‘play with tunes’ back to the stage. Lauder is being staged in the very theatre that launched Sir Harry Lauder to stardom. The place, the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, where in 1905, Lauder in the leading role in the Howard & Wyndham pantomime Aladdin, wrote the now, world-famous I Love a Lassie. The place that is this week celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Lauder’s story truly is one of rags to riches: from leaving school at 12 to go to the coal faces of Lanarkshire, his first steps on the music hall stage, through fame in London (appearing in six theatres a night) then international stardom, to becoming the highest paid entertainer in the world, his skill at self-promotion and his ambition set him apart from the start. This is a man who carefully cultivated his tight-fisted Scotsman image and who, on arriving in the US (in the days before the mass media) rode behind a pipe band in an open-topped car down Broadway to generate a sell-out audience for his shows. He also spotted the potential in his young, inexperienced US agent, one William Morris whose company continues to be the king among acting agencies today. He left an indelible impression on all those he met. His eventual Knighthood though, wasn’t for his fame and skill as a performer, it was for his humanitarian work, raising money (over £1 Million) for the returning troops of World War 1, despite suffering incredible personal loss.

Over a century on from the height of his fame, his legacy lives strong. You may think that you don’t know the words to his songs – but you do. There must be something in the Scottish DNA that pre-programmes them into our psyche, either that or the sheer cleverness of the songwriting, that, by the second verse and chorus, you’ve learned the lyrics and are singing along with the best of them. Indeed, the audience, before the lights dim and the story begins, are gently singing along to these beloved tunes (something they continue to do whenever given the chance throughout the performance).

Besides a gripping tale, jokes that are as fresh and funny 100 years on, and those astonishingly catchy songs, it’s an incredible central performance from MacDougall that elevates this to an unmissable evening of theatre. MacDougall looks as if he’s having the time of his life and his energy and utter immersion in the role transmit to the audience. His rendition of Stop Your Tickling Jock is the most infectiously funny thing I’ve seen on a stage in a long time – I defy anyone not to laugh. This is a joyful experience, both to watch and to feel a part of. MacDougall is a fine tenor and his beautiful diction and impressive acting skills showcase Lauder’s work at its very best.

An in-missable, five-star tribute to one of Scotland’s greats by a production and performing team of the highest quality.

Images: James Glossop