THREE shows, three women trying to make sense of the shape of their own lives; it’s a rich vein of writing, and it reminds us of how vigorously women are now beginning to explore and challenge the traditional pattern set down for female fulfilment.
Ring Road, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****
Invisible Lines, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh ***
(Can This Be) Home, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ***
In Anita Vettesse’s searingly honest and moving play Ring Road – first seen at Oran Mor three years ago, and now revived as part of the current 15th anniversary celebration – Lisa is a woman who is almost visibly cracking under the pressure of trying to match the reality of her life, as busy 40-year-old teacher with a stale marriage and a husband who cannot have children, with her earlier dreams of a family, and her own powerful drive to become a mother.
Her solution, born of desperation, is to make an early-evening assignation, at a hotel on a ring-road, with her husband Paul’s brother Mark, who, she reckons, is genetically close enough for any child he fathers to pass as Paul’s –provided, of course, that Mark is willing to be her anonymous sperm donor.
In this new version of the 2016 production, directed by Johnny McKnight, and featuring Vettesse herself and Gavin Wright as Lisa and Mark, there’s a slow-burning quality to this gradually darkening comedy, as we begin to understand the deep emotional cruelty of what Lisa is asking of Mark, and the depth of the pain that has driven her there.
Eventually, though, Vettesse’s disturbing play brings us to a place not visited in Scottish writing about women and their men since the 1980s, when Liz Lochhead first invented her childless oil wife, Verena; a place of infinite sadness, where life disappoints the most ordinary of all expectations, and where the idea of “moving on” seems a cruel joke to a woman whose last chances have all gone.
Theatre-maker Kath Burlinson, by contrast, is an absolute expert in moving on; not least through the often unspoken experience of female menopause, which is most beautifully explored in her current 50-minute cycle of poetry, songs and visual images, Invisible Lines, playing briefly at the Roxy.
Standing naked and middle-aged in front of her audience, and following a seasonal cycle from winter to spring, summer and autumn, Burlinson and her musician and co-writer Christine Sparks bring a magical mix of wit and lyricism to the experience of looking back over a young female life, and moving forward to the next stage; the songs have wicked titles like Menopause Tango and Greedy C**t, Chris Grady’s videos are gorgeous, and Burlinson has a beautiful and posed way with movement, often reflected in her shadow projected on to the backdrop images.
And if the whole effect is a bit like a life-affirmation class for women of a certain age, with a decided arts-and-crafts feel, it’s delivered with a degree of artistry that makes it more than enjoyable – and not only for the women in the audience.
At the Tron, meanwhile, Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir delivers the latest version of her evolving Brexit work (Can This Be) Home, in which she explores the multiple negative impacts of Brexit on people like herself, who had happily adopted Britain as a relaxed and welcoming multicultural home, until the vote of 23 June 2016 blew their worlds apart.
In six short monologues that – as she freely admits – say little about the ongoing Brexit mess that we haven’t already heard, Sigfusdottir moves through the stages of her relationship with Britain, from early bafflement and growing affection to shock, bewilderment, profound anxiety about the future, and, at last, to real anger; while musician and composer Tom Oakes provides an exquisite counterpoint that reflects, without over-emphasis, the intense internationalism of his work, and the absurdity of creating borders that divide musicians and artists.
And although Brexit is its overwhelming theme, it’s possible to detect, in Sigfusdottir’s show, many of the same pressures that recur in all female lives. She thought this would be her home, the place were she could work, grow, and perhaps have children of her own.
Now, that flawed and fateful vote has thrown the whole shape of her future life into question; and it’s small wonder that she ends her show quoting the pervasive slogan from those pastiche British Second World War mugs. “Keep calm?” she says. “No. Now, I think we’ve kept it too long.” - JOYCE MCMILLAN
All three shows run until 16 March