Theatre review: The Collection, Glasgow

THERE are three main aims, says director Michael Emans, behind Rapture Theatre’s intense new revival of Mike Cullen’s 1996 play The Collection, now on tour across Scotland: to entertain, to offer the audience a dramatic roller-coaster ride, and to make them think about ever-more-pressing issues of personal debt.

Rapture Theatre's production of The Collection. Picture: Contributed

The Collection

Tron, Glasgow

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The problem with Cullen’s play, though, is that it really only fulfils the second of those aims. A bleak urban-noir tragedy in ten scenes, The Collection is set mainly in the collectors’ office of a Glasgow loan-shark company, where three employees – elderly Bob, new recruit Billy, and hard-man boss Joe – each find their own way of dealing with a job that involves preying on the misery of others. The play aspires to combine tragedy with a David-Mamet style black humour; but in truth, entertainment is in short supply, as Joe and Billy’s joyless dog-eat-dog banter becomes ever more crass, sexist and repellent.

Nor, alas, does the play really have much to say about personal debt; for all it does, over two hours, is to circle obsessively around the fact that faced with a final debt crisis, some female clients will offer themselves to the collector, as a quid pro quo. It’s this terrible remembered moment of temptation and corruption that finally drives Bob to terminal despair.

The woman in the case, though, remains little more than a cipher of conflicting signals. And not all the grace of Emans’s production – featuring a terrific central performance from Jimmy Chisholm as Bob, and strong visual images by designer Lyn McAndrew – can wholly redeem a play which, in the end, says only what was obvious at the start: that where money becomes the only measure of worth, human beings dwindle into cruel, ridiculous caricatures and life becomes hell.