JOYCE MCMILLAN on DOORWAYS IN DRUMORTY at the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, for The Scotsman, 27.10.10
2 stars **
THE OTHER DAY, I heard that great, eccentric sage of Scottish literature, Alasdair Gray, on the radio. He was defining provincialism, a vice into which he has never been tempted to sink. “It comes,” he quavered, “when you write as if you were describing yourself for the benefit of somebody more important”; and It’s certainly true that in Aberdeen and the north-east, the habit of casting the local culture as some kind of couthy court jester to the norms of British life seems so ingrained that it dogs every attempt at locally-made theatre like a noisy pantomime dame.
in 2008, the Aberdeen-based company Red Rag made a promising bid for freedom with their show Lest We Forget, about the Piper Alpha disaster, which effectively avoided couthiness by dealing with a tragic contemporary theme. Their latest production Doorways In Drumorty, though, takes the risk of reverting to type, as playwright Mike Gibb puts together a show about early-20th-century small-town life in the north-east, complete with all the regulation gossips and wasters, religious hypocrites and elderly battle-axes.
Loosely based on the controversial novel Dark Star, by Aberdeenshire-girl-turned-1920’s-Hollywood-scriptwriter Lorna Moon, the show has its chances to transcend some of these cliches, and takes just a few of them; Anne Kane Howie turns in a thoughtful performance as the free-thinking spinster Jessie MacLean, who takes in and supports a pregnant farm servant, young Bella. On the whole, though, Fraser Sivewright’s production is far too fond of the easy laugh and the comforting stereotype. And although it should provide some fun for audiences in Finzean, Cullen and New Pitsligo, as it tours around this week, it looks like a missed opportunity to say something much tougher and more challenging about the restrictions of traditional small-town life, and Lorna Moon’s mighty 20th century struggle to escape from them, for good.