Theatre reviews: When We Were Young | Sho and the Demons of the Deep

Liam Lambie’s new play tells the story of four young Govan men trapped in a cycle of gang violence, while Sho and the Demons of the Deep carries a complex environmental message. Reviews by Joyce McMillan

When We Were Young, East Kilbride Arts Centre ****

Sho and the Demons of the Deep, Platform, Glasgow ***

Back in the 1990s, Glasgow was known as the knife crime capital of Europe; and writer-director Liam Lambie’s passionate full length drama When We Were Young – presented by his own Geeza Break theatre company, founded in Glasgow in 2015 – tells the story of the generation who were teenagers at that time, and of how, despite violence reduction initiatives, that history of violence still perpetuates itself today.

The story revolves around four young Govan men – brothers Chris and Tam Mooney, and their friends Gee and Joe – who find themselves drawn into gang violence on the streets when they are barely more than children, and are not able to escape, despite the fierce love and support of their single mum, Mags.

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The comedy rages fast, furious and foul-mouthed, as Chris and Gee hook up with local girls Michaela and Sammy, and lurch towards a kind of adulthood. And with the comedy comes searing tragedy, as every fatal twist of violence creates new cycles of hatred and revenge.

It’s sometimes difficult to cope with the relentless grimness of the social picture Lambie paints. His characters inhabit a world without politics, church, meaningful work, or any strong sense of a possible way out; and although their banter is often hilarious, the sheer narrowness of their vision tends to mean that – in sharp contrast to earlier generations of Scottish working-class drama – sexual obscenity, the louder and ruder the better, is the only real source of humour.

What’s absolutely clear, though, is the passionate response of audiences to Lambie’s grim portrayal of how class politics has played out, in post-Thatcherite Britain; and the brilliant intensity of the performances of Lambie’s seven-strong company, led by Lambie himself as Chris, Ross McAree as Tam, and Clare Rooney as the astonishing Mags, with Dionne Frati as Chris’s girl Michaela. And if it might be possible to tell the story more briskly, with more strategic use of the monologues from Chris that punctuate the action, in a sense there’s no need for brevity; in a drama that offers a good night out for audiences, while looking squarely at a tragedy that has blighted too many lives in Scotland, and is still with us today.

Itxaso Moreno, Christina Strachan and Rebecca Wilkie in Shō And The Demons Of The DeepItxaso Moreno, Christina Strachan and Rebecca Wilkie in Shō And The Demons Of The Deep
Itxaso Moreno, Christina Strachan and Rebecca Wilkie in Shō And The Demons Of The Deep

At the Platform in Easterhouse, meanwhile, the Independent Arts Project’s new touring show for children and young people, presented with the National Theatre of Scotland, uses heavy-duty metaphor to explore the fate of a society that cannot cope with its own deepest fears and nightmares. Based on a book by Annouchka Gravel Galouchko, Sho And The Demons Of The Deep tells the slightly circuitous tale of a girl called Hana, growing up in a city where the river has become so polluted and poisoned that the whole population may soon have to move elsewhere.

Through conversation with her grandma, Sho, she begins to realise that the problem dates back to Sho’s childhood, when her secret habit of throwing her worst nightmares into the river spread to the whole population. It’s a tremendously complex metaphor, in other words, that refers to environmental crisis and climate change; but also has other, more subtle social meanings that sometimes seem slightly beyond the grasp of Zoe Bullock’s 65-minute script.

All four performers, though – Rebecca Wilkie, Christina Strachan, Itxaso Moreno, and BSL interpreter Catherine King – present the story with impressive skill and feeling, in Shilpa T Hyland’s production; and the look of the show (designed by Claire Halleran, lit by Kate Bonney) is quietly gorgeous, a rag-bag of domestic detail morphing into night-time epics of fear and courage, as Hana faces up to the demons of a whole city, and finally finds ways of understanding and befriending them.

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When We Were Young returns in August 2024; see

Sho And The Demons Of The Deep on tour across Scotland until 5 June; for details seeō-and-the-demons-of-the-deep

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