Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Five women emerge from the blackness of Jamie Vartan's panoramic
staging at the start of Lu Kemp's revival of Sue Glover's 1991 play,
each dragging a wooden crate attached to a rope behind them. Resembling
a quintet of Mother Courages, this is just one of many powerful images
in Glover's brutal and unsentimental study of life across the seasons
for six women working the land in nineteenth century rural Scotland.
Hired by the gentry and paid a pittance, youngsters Liza and Jenny line
up alongside Sara and her teenage daughter Tottie. Maggie works
alongside them inbetween tending to her bairns, while ex Bondager Ellen
occasionally loosens her corset and comes down from the big house she
married into. All have yearnings, be it for Canada or a local
farm-hand, and when work turns to play, Tottie's tragedy is inevitable.
After more than a decade without a production on home soil, one of the
most striking things about Bondagers is just how ground-breaking the
play's fusion of rich poetic text, striking physicality and a rhythmic
musicality that pulses it remains. Yet so connected are its mixture of
forms and styles in Kemp's rendering of the play that it never draws
attention to them, even as Michael John McCarthy's score seems to
whisper from the land itself.
Among six dynamic performances, Cath Whitefield gives a heart-rending
turn as Tottie, here more a free spirit without any social buffers to
contain her than a one-dimensional daftie. Tottie is the play's heart,
in which something deeply and profoundly primal is going on. This
speaks volumes about how both women and the environment they tend to
can be violated by men's hands.
The Herald, October 27th 2014