The ‘braw buoys’ take Fringe Festival by storm

The cast of 'A Cinema in South Georgia' in Eyemouth harbour
The cast of 'A Cinema in South Georgia' in Eyemouth harbour

A play about Berwickshire fishermen who travelled to the South Atlantic to hunt whales has won rave reviews at the recent Edinburgh International Fringe Festival.

The four week, 25 show, run scored four star review after four star review much to the delight of its Eyemouth author Susan Wilson and the four local stars of the show Euan McIver, Jonathan Combe, Mark Vevers and Frazer Smiles, plus Bill MacDougal-Inglis who appeared in a filmed sequence.

‘A Cinema in South Georgia’, was meticulously researched by Susan and based entirely on first-hand accounts of the fishermen, including her father, Willie Watt who was one of the last of the men to go to the South Atlantic from the UK to hunt whales.

Set around the year 1959, one of the last years of the traditional whaling industry in the South Atlantic, the play follows the lives of Jim, Archie, Fraser and Robbie - now forever known as the ‘braw buoys’ - who shipped a cinema projector from the Alhambra Theatre, in Leith, Edinburgh, to South Georgia.

The audience witnesses a celebration of their lives through singing, dancing, drinking, fights and the occasional period of contemplation. The four men were perfectly cast: Mark Vevers as Archie, the struggling family man; Euan McIver as Jim, the leader of the crew; Jonathan Combe as misfit Fraser, and Frazer Smilez as the wee one, Robbie. First shown in Coldingham Hall ‘A Cinema in South Georgia’ was an immediate hit with the audience, and it played to full houses at Eyemouth Hippodrome, and The Maltings in Berwick, before moving on to Edinburgh. Former whalers from near and far have been in the audience and given it their unequivocal seal of approval - something that was very important to Susan.

“A Cinema in South Georgia is a fantastic piece of working class social history in a little discussed area. If a more mature Horrible Histories took on the seven seas, this would be the result,” said The Student Newspaper, awarding it four stars.

The Scotsman said: “The actors infuse the show with energy, cheerfulness and good humour”; The Edinburgh Fringe Review: “A Cinema In South Georgia is exquisite, and executed in such a manner that it was deeply respectful to the memory of all those this experience was based on. One of the most refreshing and enjoyable productions at the Fringe – you will only regret not going to see it.”

The British Theatre Guide said: “The Braw Buoys have brought the sort of bittersweet play to the Fringe that leaves you uplifted, enlightened and really feeling an emotional attachment to a time and place all but lost to us”.

And one audience member simply said: “Wow what can I say, this show has been amazing I’ve seen it three times and each time it gets better and better.”

These and other reviews have spurred the co–writers, Susan Wilson and Jeffrey Mayhew, who also directed the show, to seek funding for a national tour of the show, spurred on by comments from The Public Reviews such as  “A must see tale... A tricky and unique subject to bring to the stage but it is a braw show from the Braw Buoys.” 

Author Susan Wilson with cast members outside the Edinburgh venue where the show had a 25 show run

Author Susan Wilson with cast members outside the Edinburgh venue where the show had a 25 show run

Susan Wilson said this week: “It was an amazing experience that led to six **** reviews including The Scotsman and The British Theatre Guide and also some amazing audience feedback.

“Several Salvesen family members attended as well as numerous ex-whalers from all over the UK. This particular piece of social history seemed to be well received and of great interest to all.

“Although the whole experience was exhausting, particularly for the cast who were travelling up to the Fringe. We are now in the process of arranging a national tour which will include The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub in London as one of the venues. This is subject to adequate funding being available.”

“Susan and her husband, Michael Wilson, took the huge risk of personally funding the Fringe experience which brought the show so much critical and public acclaim, however touring the show means needing much deeper pockets, so investigations are being made into the feasibility of bringing this forgotten part of British social history to more people,” said professional actor Euan McIver who led the small cast, all of whom won a number of outstanding personal critiques.

“All of the cast undoubtedly benefited and grew from the Fringe experience,” added Euan who is now preparing for his next major role. Nothing could be more different from his character of salty old sea dog Jim Gordon in ‘A Cinema in South Georgia’ as he heads the cast as Granny Tingle in The Maltings Theatre and Cinema’s production of Little Red Riding Hood this Christmas.

“I’ve had a wonderful time playing Jim, but I’ve also had over 30 years’ experience in traditional pantomime” said Euan from his home in Gavinton.

“It will be a refreshing change to put the grubby boiler suit and tackety boots to one side and add some sparkle to the festive season. I have had a very exciting year and intend to end it on a pantomime high”.