Theatre reviews: The Maw Broon Monologues/10,000 Metres Deep/Antigone


FOR a woman who first saw the light of day on 8 March 1936 – and was a lusty 50-year-old even then – the Sunday Post's great Scottish cartoon matriarch, Maw Broon, is looking in pretty good shape. She's not slim, she's not young, she's not braw; and as she comes to realise, in the course of The Maw Broon Monologues, a new Glasgay! Commission by Glasgow-born poet and playwright Jackie Kay, she isn't actually real.

For all her disadvantages, though, Maw Broon – as personified here by fabulous Terry Neason, and black alter ego Suzanne Bonnar – is all woman; and in Kay's weird, slightly mind-blowing tartan-tinged fantasy, she takes umbrage at Paw Broon's suspected infidelity, and sets off from her kitsch room-and-kitchen at No 10 Glebe Street to travel the world of the early 21st century, in search of the personal fulfilment she deserves.

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Tartan shopping bag in hand, and headscarf tied firmly in place, she therefore visits a shrink, tries colonic irrigation, pines for a room of her own, wins through to round three of Scotland's Got Talent ("reality's no just on TV, ye know"), discusses the possible merits of a gay lifestyle, and generates her own version of the Vagina Monologues. And meantime, at the piano, the astonishing Tom Urie – in the character of Maw's unattractive bearded daughter, Daphne Broon – rattles out his own cycle of songs in which Neason and Bonnar celebrate or bewail Maw's fate, in styles ranging from Scottish country dance to serious blues; while a screen above the fireplace alternates between a sentimental Highland scene, and captioned texts in which the great philosophers of post-modernity offer their thoughts on the journey of the individual towards self-knowledge.

It has to be said that having set up this brilliant and hilarious scenario, Jackie Kay's 90-minute script doesn't quite develop the dramatic momentum of which it might have been capable. The relationship between the two Maw Broons is not clear; the idea of the black alter ego is not developed, and their conversation often dwindles into daytime television clich. The show expresses no legible view about the self-obsessed individualism of our time; and it often slides into the easy comic option of setting up the old tenement stereotype, and then raising cheap laughs by conjuring up incongruities, like Maw Broon serving up sashimi.

But if the show sometimes lacks focus, and often tends to reinforce the stereotypes it sets out to challenge, it's also one of the most hilariously inventive investigations of Scottish kitsch culture to appear on stage since the 1980s. Maggie Kinloch's production fully exploits the postmodern madness of the material; Neason and Bonnar both sing beautifully, particularly when it comes to the blues. And Neason in particular sometimes seems like the very embodiment of a certain kind of Scottish womanhood – the hard-working, self-mocking kind for whom being a woman was never a matter of pride or joy, and who therefore needed the liberation brought by the strange, self-centred times we live in, as much as any group on earth.

Ideas of motherhood also loom large in this week's play in the Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season; although after the madness of Maw Broon, it's strange to see a young playwright reverting to such a conventional style. Laura Lomas's 10,000 Metres Deep – co-produced with the London-based new writing company Paines Plough – is a slow-moving three-handed drama about a chance encounter between Cathy, a middle-aged woman living alone in a remote coastal cottage, and Claire and Jason, a young couple on the run from chaotic city lives.

Claire is heavily pregnant, a strange girl obsessed with random pub-quiz facts; Jason is a needy boy on a constant knife-edge of rage and violence. And Cathy is less solid and settled than she looks, still grieving the loss, 20 years ago, of the baby daughter who was her only child.

The curve of the story is both predictable and sentimental; the major plot developments emerge with agonising slowness, and are visible long minutes before Lomas gets round to articulating them. Yet there's something about this play that holds the attention, nevertheless. It's partly the sheer excellence of the acting, in Tessa Walker's unshowy production, from Jennifer Black, Gemma McElhinney, and Owen Whitelaw. But it's also the intense emotional energy and sadness with which Lomas pursues her image of a society in which the motherly are often left childless, and children and young people often feel utterly, forlornly unmothered. There's a profound truth there; and it promises well for Laura Lomas's future, as a playwright with the courage to go where the maximum pain and tension is, and to dramatise it, without apology.

The heroine of Sophocles's mighty tragedy Antigone is also a motherless child, the youngest daughter of the ill-fated incestuous union between Oedipus and Jocasta. In this play, though – now revived by Strathclyde Theatre Group at the Ramshorn, in Jean Anouilh's 1940s version – Antigone represents a timeless image of youthful idealism and loyalty, pitted against the grubby pragmatism of grown-up politics, as practised by her uncle Creon, King of Thebes.

Susan C Triesman's production, for a pro-am cast of 11, is a straightforward, old-fashioned and steadily-paced affair, with a proscenium-arch feel that matches the wordy bourgeois tone of Anouilh's version. But if Strathclyde Theatre Group's productions often fail to set the Merchant City alight, it would still be regrettable if it were to succumb to the latest round of financial threats to its existence. It's an organisation with a strong record in providing unique pathways into theatre, particularly for aspiring actors of all ages; and in a world increasingly dominated by the tick-box and the mandatory qualification, its loss would be a blow to the maverick spirit on which artistic creativity thrives.

• All shows run until 7 November.