JOYCE MCMILLAN on LEVIATHAN at Oran Mor, Glasgow, and HAME at The Shed, Shawlands, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 14.3.15.
Leviathan 3 stars ***
Hame 3 stars ***
THE SCENE IS THE back garden of a council house in Wales; there’s a railway passing by, a view of the mountain, and a woman of called Maeve – late Fifties, sharp-tongued, unstoppable – trying to hold things together. The main problem is her daughter Karen, a psychiatric nurse who has slumped into a catatonic state following an incident at work, of which we gradually learn through her fierce internal monologue, which we hear, although Maeve cannot.
And then there’s Karen’s beautiful 20-ish daughter Hannah, who’s been out partying all night, and who has clearly inheritewd some of her grandmother’s feisty spirit, but whose life is also shadowed by misery, illness and an unwanted pregnancy – everything to do with her promiscuous lifestyle, nothing to do with her rich 42-year-old boyfriend, who’s “had the snip”.
It’s not always an easy play to watch, this piece by emerging Welsh writer Matthew Trevannion; it lays on the misery just one layer too thick, and in Rachel O’Riordan‘s slow-moving production, Maeve and Hannah shuffle awkwardly around Karen’s armchair, rather than whirling around it like twin storms round a vortex.
What’s striking, though, is the ferocious quality of Travannion’s writing, veering from sharp comic dialogue to exquisite psychological observation, in Maeve’s denial of the depth of her daughter’s illness; and then plunging into a strange, almost epic poetry at the heart of Karen’s monologues, as she longs to merge into the woodlands and become a tree, like Daphne of the Greek myth. And for all its slightly awkward twists and turns, the play offers three beautiful, haunting performances from Siw Hughes, Claire Cage and Gwawr Loader, as three women without men, except where men push roughly into their lives changing and destroying them, and leaving Maeve – with her cheap clothes, tiny income, and cans of lager – to get on with picking up the pieces.
At the Shed in Shawlands, meanwhile, packed audiences are turning out for Hame, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s St. Patick’s Festival family drama about a Glasgow Irish family living through Scotland’s referendum year. Presented by Sweet For Addicts, a community company working with people impacted by drug problems either directly or through their families, Mac Giolla Bhain’s play is rough, raw and sometimes sentimental, as it moves through a year in which old grandad Jimmy O’Donnell suffers a massive stroke with all the consequent problems, his quiet son Michael tries to help by bringing in the shopping, and hid highflying grand-daughter Annmarie returns from her lucrative job in London ever more frequently, as she tries to support her ailing grandad, and gradually becomes drawn in to the referendum yes campaign.
For all its cheesy soap-opera moments and long blackouts between short scenes, though, Hame tackles some of the realities of Scottish life over the past year with a directness and energy that seems to elude better-known and better-funded companies. There are rows about the referendum, bad nights at Parkhead, crises over old Jimmy’s homecare, a touching recovery powered by the soft Irish singing of one of his carers, and a cast of 12 all working hard to deliver a thoughtful story of Glasgoe life now. And at rthe heart of the play, there are two gorgeous performances from Ali Holmes and Gill McGowan as Annmarie and her friend Kirsty; two Glasgow women from different traditions glimpsing the chance of a different Scotland, and throwing themselves into the cause, while the older generation stand by counselling caution, or mourning lost glories.
Leviathan at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until today, and at the Traverse, Edinburgh, 17-21 March. Hame at The Shed, Shawlands, final performance tonight.