Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
The barbed-wire covered container guarded by a couple of shell-suit and
trainer-clad likely lads that greets the audience for the National
Theatre of Scotland's revival of Ena Lamont Stewart's tenement tragedy
speaks volumes about the play's contemporary relevance. While Graham
McLaren's vividly visceral production never labours things, when the
pair pull back the door as the sparks of long-redundant industries fly
off-stage, it's as if what should by rights be a museum piece kept in storage has burst into angry life, part history lesson, part warning.
The dark age inhabited by Maggie Morrison and her errant brood was
searingly of the moment when Stewart's play first appeared in 1947, and
its characters remain instantly recognisable, from Kevin Guthrie's
feckless mummy's boy Alec to the ruthless ambition of his trophy bride
Isa and the equally ambitious Jenny. Veteran folk singer Arthur
Johnstone punctuates each scene with a presence that accentuates the
blistering lyricism of Stewart's own words. So when John breaks down
and says that “All I've done wrong is to be born into poverty,” it's as
if he's mourning his entire generation's emasculation.
Even so, a simmering sexual frisson bubbles between Lorraine M
McIntosh's vivacious Maggie and Michael Nardone's charismatic John.
With all that love and anger blasting about their living room, its easy
to understand why they stay together. Boxed inside Colin Richmond's set
on which furniture is flung around and doors slammed, the full
claustrophobia of such a crowded household rings equally true. When
they explode into fits of violent rage, Maggie and John are simply
flexing their muscles, trying in vain to breathe in a stifling world.
The Herald, September 22 2011