JOYCE MCMILLAN on A DRUNK WOMAN LOOKS AT THE THISTLE at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 23.4.08
4 stars ****
THERE’S JUST ONE depressing thing about Denise Mina’s sparky new solo piece, playing at Oran Mor this week. Mina’s rhyming verse monologue is a modern woman’s response to Hugh MacDiarmid’s great 1926 poem on Scottish identity, performed by Karen Dunbar with a tremendous, shape-changing female energy. But the central point Mina makes about national identity – that only fools ever try to define it, and the best we can achieve is a cumulative description full of contradictions – is one that has been regularly made in Scotland for decades now; and it’s depressing to think that we still have to keep repeating ourselves on this subject, in an endless, defeated cycle of forgetting and rediscovery.
That said, though, Mina’s play has plenty of energetic reflection to offer. Dunbar begins as a modern Scottish tequila victim, trapped against a background of bar-room tartan kitsch. Then the character morphs into something more subtle, a modern female self sometimes riddled with self-hatred at the various political and commercial sales-pitches that pass for definitions of modern Scotland, sometimes exploring a rich territory of erotic and truthful female experience too often excluded from Scotland’s self-image. The sharpening debate on Scottish independence adds a cutting edge to her sceptical commentary – “Freedom? For whit? To raise a tax? Exclude wetbacks? Order attacks?”. And Mina’s sharp, ingenious rhyming verse is full of brilliant one-liners, often responding to the poetry of MacDiarmid and Burns; in a show that, if not a massive step foward for Scotland’s cultural debate, still offers a brilliant and unsettling march around familiar territory.