Helicopters circle above, conjured up by swirling spotlights over a darkened Citizens’ auditorium; and then we are down to earth in Marie’s kitchen, where something like normal life goes on, despite occasional sounds of explosions and gunfire from the streets outside. This is West Belfast in the late 1980s, the scene of Rona Munro’s acclaimed 1990 play Bold Girls; and 20 years into the Troubles, with a decade still to go, Munro’s three central characters – middle-aged Nora, her good-time-girl daughter Cassie, and young widowed mother Marie, who lives across the road – have not only learned to live with armoured vehicles full of British soldiers on the streets, but have come to find some aspects of the situation hilariously funny.
Bold Girls ****
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow
Just Start Here ****
26 Civic Street, Glasgow
Yet beneath the surface, stress, fear and tragedy are everywhere. All of the women’s menfolk are either dead or in prison; and when a strange, familiar-looking teenage girl in a white dress starts to haunt the streets around Marie’s house, desperately painful truths begin to emerge, shattering Marie’s little zone of peace.
Richard Baron’s fine staging at the Citizens’ explores Munro’s powerful play with a passion that seems both profoundly respectful of the history in which the story is rooted, and also urgently contemporary, at a moment when civil wars from Ukraine to Afghanistan once again leave
women struggling to construct stories of the past and future that will give their children some hope; there’s also an element of pure tribute to the resilience of Belfast’s fast-talking, intensely humorous street-culture, so closely linked to the language and history of Glasgow that the Citizens’ audience embraces it like a much-loved cousin.
At the heart of the production’s success, though, lies a quartet of terrific, perfectly-pitched performances from Deirdre Davis as Nora, Scarlett Mack as Cassie, Sinead Sharkey as the girl Deirdre, and a quietly superb Lucianne McEvoy as Marie. And although Bold Girls resolves itself into a powerful real-world story about resilience in the face of personal betrayal, it retains almost to the end a sense that Deirdre also represents something else; a spirit, a presence, a modern Deirdre of the Sorrows, come to remind Marie that pain can be held at arms’ length for so long, but finally comes to claim its own.
There was also a powerful sense of Glasgow’s – and Scotland’s – history at the first evening of the National Theatre Scotland’s Just Start Here workshop event, held over the weekend at the company’s old headquarters in Civic House. At one level, the NTS’s Engine Room boss, Anna Hodgart, finds herself caught in the “perpetual development” loop that’s becoming all too pervasive in Scottish theatre, as money for full productions grows scarcer.
Friday evening’s programme, though, offered an outstanding example of how to use a development process well, bringing together a range of artists all of whom seemed, one way or the other, to be reflecting on the history of black people in Scotland. The evening began with a series of three short, disturbing movement pieces under the title One Day To Play, created within a single day by three pairs of young performers, each involving at least one black player. It ended with some truly magnificent, resonant and haunting sounds from the Glasgow-based singer-songwriter known as Heir Of The Cursed, Beldina Odenyo Onassis.
And in the middle sat Hannah Lavery’s wonderful performance-poetry monologue The Drift, the story of her troubled relationship with her black father, who was born in Edinburgh in the 1950s. Like some of the material produced by young black female artists on last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, The Drift asks the most challenging questions of the western world – and in this case of Scotland – about our real views on race and belonging; and it formed a fine centrepiece to an evening full of reminders that Glasgow’s ships once sailed out not only to Ireland and America, but to Africa and the Caribbean, and into a deep complicity with the slave trade that still haunts our culture, like a long-denied crime.
Bold Girls at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until 10 February. The National Theatre of Scotland will stage its next Just Start Here weekend in November.