THE political landscape of Scotland may shift and quake but the nation’s theatre community has always played a key role in reminding us where the main landmarks are and ensuring that unsung heroes and heroines are not hidden from history.
Mrs Barbour’s Daughters - Oran Mor, Glasgow
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Linwood No More - The Tron, Glasgow
Mary Barbour – celebrated in AJ Taudevin’s new 50-minute lunchtime play for the Play, Pie And Pint season – was one of those heroines, the woman who led the Glasgow rent strike of 1914, after tenement landlords tried to impose massive increases on the wives and families of serving soldiers, who went on to become a city councillor and a hugely influential campaigner for the welfare of women and children in Scotland’s cities.
It’s good to report, though, that Taudevin’s play is no simple act of hagiography, but a complex reflection on family history, in which 87-year-old Mary – named after Mrs Barbour – reflects on a life shaped by her own bitter reaction against the family radical tradition, represented by her older sister Grace.
Cared for by Grace’s robust daughter Joan, who cheerfully tolerates her abuse, Mary revisits the 1930s, the 1940s and the 1950s and although she wants only to hear the easy-listening tunes on her battered radio, Grace’s voice brings another kind of song back to her troubled mind, songs of struggle and liberation which finally swell into a magnificent choral conclusion.
Mary’s stubborn bitterness perhaps persists too far into the drama. The play needs to seem more like a journey, less like a sudden volte-face. Yet the powerful texture of Taudevin’s writing supports a fine trio of performances from Anna Hepburn as Mary, Gail Watson as Grace, and Libby McArthur as both Joan and Mrs Barbour.
Lunchtime audiences at the Traverse in Edinburgh next week can look forward to a thought-provoking piece of radical history, with an added chance to join in the final chorus of Bella Ciao.
Paul Coulter’s Linwood No More, playing briefly at the Tron, is a 45-minute monologue built around another vital piece of Scottish working-class history – the short, sad story of the huge Linwood car plant which opened with such high hopes in 1963, and closed with the loss of more than 13,000 jobs just 18 years later.
The sole character in Coulter’s play is one of the victims of that closure, now a down-and-out glimpsed on a Glasgow park bench 19 years on, at the turn of the millennium.
Coulter’s text is too brief to achieve much depth, and too straightfoward in its intention to do much more than state what should be obvious – that people end up on the streets not because they are different from the rest of us, but because they are the same, and often just unlucky in the fierce combination of disasters with which they have to deal.
Yet Vincent Friell delivers a heartfelt and very moving performance, in a show that serves to remind us of the profound human tragedy behind the phrase “Linwood no more”, which the Proclaimers went on to write into our cultural history.
Seen on 07.10.14 and 09.10.14
• Mrs Barbour’s Daughters, Oran Mor, Glasgow, today; then Traverse, Edinburgh, 14-18 October. Linwood No More ends today