Rehanna Macdonald is desperate to find out who she is, discover her identity and her heritage. But all she can hear is the voice of Idi Amin laughing at her from beyond the grave. Her parents fled Uganda to escape one of history’s most notorious dictators and settled in Dundee – it was the only place with no waiting list for relocation once they made it to the UK. MacDonald has grown up with a tough skin and a broad accent, full of pace and power as she opens The Last Queen of Scotland by running away from a fight in a nightclub. But she can’t shake the feeling that her tormentor is constantly at her back in Jaimini Jethwa’s punchy script of longing to belong.
MacDonald is persuaded to visit Uganda and explore the country she briefly lived in, now only at the fringes of her memory. In Dundee, the colour of her skin stops her from fitting in – so too in Uganda. As an Asian woman, she feels out of place despite her aggressive spoken word mantra, “You don’t have to wear a kilt to be Scottish”. Jemima Levick’s direction fuses cultures with consideration and Patricia Panther’s live compositions mimic the sense of individuality and self through the production. But despite this, MacDonald can’t accept her own duality. It becomes clear that her brash personality masks the resigned stoicism of always being an outsider.
The journey back to her roots is almost a reverse of Amin, a crusade to undo the influence he’s had in her life. Amin was fixated with the Scottish culture and MacDonald is determined to cut all ties with this madman. The Africans need their land back, as does MacDonald. But she enters her home country as a tourist, a mark for the locals to leech money from. MacDonald remains resilient when a softer side to her character would emphasise the futility of her situation. The relentless, spiralling descent to the play’s lowest point isn’t as steep or impactful as history demands. One person can’t undo decades of corruption; this realisation needs further emphasis both in MacDonald’s performance and Levick’s direction – a rock bottom that can resolve in a bittersweet epilogue to the piece.
In the end, MacDonald predictably discovers her identity as The Last Queen Of Scotland. Home is where the heart is and all that mushy shallow narrative. As Panther’s beautifully crafted music wafts across the stage, MacDonald stands defiant, an Asian William Wallace, in a performance that remains on the same level for too long to have the true gravitas that the tale deserves.
The Last Queen of Scotland plays Underbelly Cowgate as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 26 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.