Theatre review: The Cause of Thunder

David Hayman
David Hayman
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There’s so much history standing behind this latest touring show from Fair Pley Theatre of Glasgow that it sometimes seems to stagger a little under the pressure. There’s the whole history of the Scottish Labour and trade union movement, embodied in the character of Bob Cunningham, the retirement-age union official whose story shapes this new Chris Dolan monologue, as it did Dolan’s 2014 pre-referendum piece for the same character, The Pitiless Storm.

The Cause Of Thunder ***

The Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Then there’s the history of the actor David Hayman, as performer and citizen. Born for a job in the Bridgeton steelworks, trained up at the Citizens’ Theatre in the radical 1970s, and a one-time artistic director of 7:84 Scotland, Hayman has always been determined to link his work on stage and screen to the struggle to speak truth to power; and it’s hardly surprising that the audience at the Tron greets him like a comrade, and a star in whom they can take pride.

In this play, we see Bob at the point of possible retirement, in his local pub, mulling over a letter saying that he’s now eligible to hang up his marching boots. And Dolan’s text is at its strongest when it relaxes into a wry, funny and perceptive exploration of what that moment can mean. Hayman is brilliant at conjuring up the voices of Glasgow as they kindly patronise the old codger doddering to the shops, and equally brilliant at evoking Bob’s own inner monologue about the perils and possibilities of old age. The show also contains a streak of pure lyrical beauty, as Bob remembers the stories his late, estranged wife Ethel would tell him, a kind of Glasgow magic realism, half true, half fantastical.

What is more difficult, for Dolan and Hayman, is to find a way of talking about the present Trump-Brexit political impasse that doesn’t just repeat the rants we can see every day on a dozen social media groups. These intensely political passages often seem to emerge awkwardly, and at the wrong moment, from a story on a slightly different trajectory. Yet if Hayman, Dolan, and director David Hayman Jr. are struggling with the effort to give shape and meaning to the political moment we’re in, that puts them in exactly the same place as the rest of us and perhaps accounts for the warmth of the audience response to a show that’s brief and uneven, but absolutely memorable.

*On tour to Motherwell, Inverness, Dunkeld, Ullapool and Stornoway this week, and across Scotland until 12 March.