By Michael Jackson

Then along came the fire department

Michael Jackson reports on a hot night in Bowmore
The news seemed to have spread the 10 miles from Port Ellen like a peat fire. That's why the village hall at Bowmore was having difficulty coping with the crowd. Only 25 people had booked in advance, but 120 more jostled around the entrance. In a village-hallish sort of way, it was like the podium at an airport gate, besieged by wait-listed travellers seeking passage on the day's last flight to Succotash.Being the capital of the great whisky island of Islay, the village (well, town) of Bowmore would not admit excitement over the 'world premiere tour' of a new play visiting its hall. Nor did anyone know the fire department would be called, even though friction and sparks were expected.The plot concerned the rival virtues of whisky and cheese. Hard Pressed, set on a mythical island with strong similarities to Islay, was one of some 100 plays, concerts, readings and the like touring the Highlands’ Festival this summer. Apart from such excellent organisations as the Scottish Arts Council, the sponsors coincidentally included the Classic Malts range of whiskies. One of these beverages, Lagavulin, distilled on Islay, was the 'official' whisky of the festival. (I like that idea. All public events should have official whiskies).There had, again coincidentally, been another intended sponsor, just for this play: the Islay Creamery. Sadly, the Creamery had gone out of business before the sponsorship could proceed. The play thus lost a sponsor but gained a poignant relevance, sharpened by a little reworking from the writers Dave Smith and Domhnall Ruadh."We used to blame England. These days we have to blame Edinburgh," lamented one character. Perhaps the problems were closer to home, on the island? "Is it something in the water?" asked another. "Yes, whisky," came the reply. In the story, a whisky-nosing competition was in the offing (In reality, such an event was due to take place a couple of days later, as part of the Islay Whisky Festival). "To be able to recognise a malt at 20 paces is one of the few attributes deemed worthy of respect in this community," grumbled another character, a marketing man from London. He wondered why the malts' "brand-names" had seemingly been "created from a Scrabble set by someone wearing dark glasses". The marketing man was devoting his energies to a high-octane launch for the local cheese. In the story, things started to go wrong when there was an explosion at the dairy. The blast was so convincing that the village hall's alarm was triggered, and the local fire engine came ringing through the streets. Was this play hot stuff, or what? In 'real life', the Islay Creamery failed because it made the same bland cheese as its higher-volume competitors. In the play, the cheese-makers found the answer lay not in quantity but quality, at a price, especially if the consumers were encouraged to visit the island to
sample their cheese. The play toured many more villages but was banned in one Aberdeenshire venue because of a poster design featuring two well-rounded cheeses in a lacy bra. Can such a hot production survive until its planned performance at the Festival Fringe in Auld Reekie? Hard Pressed appears at the Royal Botanic Gardens Exhibition Hall, Edinburgh, from 14-19 August.