JOYCE MCMILLAN on KORA at Dundee Rep, for The Scotsman 24.5.13.
4 stars ****
WRITTEN by one of the boldest experimental writers ever to grace the Scottish stage – the late poet, jazz musician, and playwright Tom McGrath – Kora was a strange, troubling hybrid of a play when it first appeared in 1986, and it remains so now. Based on a real-life Dundee story of the early 1980’s, as well as on classical myth, the play is set in a dead-end housing estate called The Scar, where its heroine Kora is raising her family of five sons with no sign of a father, and with every intention of producing more babies if she can.
Kora’s life looks as if it may change, though, when two ambitious students encourage the residents to form a tenants’ association; and the play therefore emerges as a strange, compelling mix of naturalistic domestic drama, surreal fantasy in which unseen children constantly people the lower part of the stage, and sharp political agitprop, in which the tenants are first encouraged in their plans, and then comprehensively betrayed by a sleek city hall bureaucrat.
In Nicholas Bone’s long-awaited revival for Dundee Rep and Magnetic North – staged in the round at the Rep’s newly-acquired annexe, Bonar Hall – the play sometimes seems unsure of its ground, and slightly sluggish in pace; some of the acting is uninspiring, and Becky Minto’s wraparound domestic setting – its walls lined with ghostly furniture – robs the play of some of its political edge. At its centre, though, Emily Winter gives a glorious performance as Kora. And if the play’s sharp political insight sometimes jostles uncomfortably against its passionate hymn to fertility and to the force of life itself, both have something vital and radical to say about deep flaws and scars in Scottish life; and perhaps in the lives of poor women everywhere, keeping the pulse of birth and new life going, in terrain that’s as emotionally hostile as it is physically scarred, and barren.