It's 1943 and the curse of rationing has visited the remote Hebridean islands of Little Todday and Great Todday to the extent that the thirsty islanders have all but run out of uisge beatha - the water of life.
And it’s not just the whisky drought that's causing problems, either. Good Catholic girl Peggy Macroon has fallen for one of the soldiers stationed on the islands: Sergeant Odd, who’s not just English, but Protestant to boot! Catriona MacLeod is having trouble prising meek schoolmaster George Campbell away from his Wee Free dragon of a mother. And the dragon herself seems too much in sympathy with the army authorities for some people's liking…
When a cargo ship, the SS Cabinet Minister, runs aground with fifty thousand cases of whisky aboard, the islanders rush to take advantage of the unexpected bounty. But then the officious Captain Waggett, the English officer commanding the Home Guard (who sees his main duty is to control the islanders in a style reminiscent of Captain Mainwaring), learns of the illicit salvage operation – and is ordered to confiscate the liquor!
The islanders are lead by the Catholic Joseph Macroon, who owns the local shop and post office, but who would like to have his fingers in even more pies. His foil is the Protestant Roderick Macrurie who owns the Snorvig Hotel and has to implement rations all round as the alcohol slowly dries up. Characters such as Willie Munro, the only Protestant on Little Todday, Jockey Stewart, and the poet Duncan Macroon ensure colour and adventure as they bring various escapades to life from the original text.
In the first act, the audience thoroughly enjoys the build up to, and the arrival of, the cargo of whisky on the stricken ship, and then the second act is devoted to the drinking of it, the hiding of it, and the disposal of it.
The musical is based on Compton MacKenzie’s funny, romantic and hugely entertaining novel of the same name that was made into a memorable film in 1949. Both the film and the novel are based on the real-life 1941 shipwreck of the SS Politician near the island of Eriskay, but in the film the two islands were merged into the single island of Todday and some religious issues were left out. Working from the original novel, with permission from the Society of Authors who manage the copyright of Compton Mackenzie's works, the adaptors, Shona and Ian, have brought those two aspects of the book back to life: the different religions, and the two Todday islands - the Catholic Little Todday and the Protestant Great Todday. This aspect provides interesting light and shade to the machinations and manoeuvering that take place between the various 'warring factions'.
The musical has a score that conjures up both the 1940s and the unmistakable sounds of the Western Isles, and ends with the poet Duncan Macroon and the Sergeant’s mother, Mrs Odd, toasting the beautiful islands with uisge beathe, as the sun sets. All is well in heaven and on earth and the audience is left with the feeling that they may just have caught a glimpse of the soul of the Outer Hebrides.