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She Town

Dundee Rep
3 stars
If Dundee was Scotland’s first female-led republic, it is all but 
reborn in Sharman Macdonald’s epic tale of life in the city’s jute 
mills during the 1930s depression. Wages are being cut every week, and 
a strike led by would-be writer Isa looks imminent. Elsewhere, 
legendary singer and Spanish Civil War veteran Paul Robeson is booked 
to play the Caird Hall, and auditions are underway for a local choir to 
back him up.

In some respects, the latter element reflects the sheer scale of Jemima 
Levick’s production, which puts some forty women onstage to deal with 
Macdonald’s multi-layered narrative. This begins with a sick child, a 
loaded gun and some mass constructivist choreography before opening up 
Alex Lowde’s huge skewed tenement set where smaller lives epitomised by 
Isa and her feisty sisters dwell.

If Isa’s aspirations lead towards Spain, other women make different 
choices. For some, sexual allure will keep them in glad rags, while 
mill owner’s wife Moira Blair short-changed herself years ago. Even 
Isa, luminously played Joanne Cummins, must face up to the brutal life 
and death realities beyond the romance of revolution and the liberating 
power of song.

The choir’s auditions rub up against the tenement scenes with a 
busyness that at times feels overloaded. That’s not to say this isn’t a 
play full of heart and soul, led as it is by a principle cast of nine 
featuring such mighty talents as Barbara Rafferty, Carol Ann Crawford 
and Morag Stark, and supported by the Rep’s Young Company and Community 
Company. When the onstage chorus drawn from the theatre’s Women’s 
Singing Group accompany Robeson’s recorded voice at the play’s most 
poignant moment, its power is immense.

The Herald, September 17th 2012



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