5 stars *****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

MOTHER GLASGOW, the dear green place. Yet as everyone who knows and loves the city can tell you, there an edge to Glasgow’s famous warmth, and to its chatty curiosity about strangers. For as David Harrower’s heroine Ciara observes, in the brilliant new solo play that bears her name, this is still a migrant city, full of competing tribes; a pace where law and civic virtue can only take you so far, where family and group loyalties often matter more, and where a certain kind of crime is woven into the fabric of the city’s self-image.

So Ciara – played with magnificent passion, wit and quiet glamour by Blythe Duff, once the female star of the Glasgow cop show Taggart – is a gallery owner, a patron of the arts; we meet her in the space that will be her new warehouse gallery. Yet her wealth comes, as she well knows, from the lifetime of organised crime pursued first by her father, Mick – “a great man”, as drunks in pubs still tell her – and then by her husband; and she speaks to us now not because she thinks we will warm to her, after hearing her story, but because the pain and contradictions of her life have reached a point where they must be told.

So in a brief hour or so of wry humour, pure tragedy, and utterly compelling lyrical narrative – all immaculately directed by Traverse artistic director Orla O’Loughlin – Ciara offers us a glimpse of what it is to live a life where home and family are traditionally prized, but where, in the end, there is no law but force, and money, and the striking of the deal. She has to live with the truth that as Mick’s daughter, she has been traded like a commodity all her life, just as she trades in artists’ lives now; and that even her brief, sweet, flaring mid-life love for the artist Torrance, the crisis that makes her speak, was in some sense set up by the powerful men around her.

There’s something about gender here, and something about Glasgow; but also something about civilisation and law itself, its fragility, its myths, its endless vulnerability. In that sense, Ciara makes a vital companion-piece to David Greig’s The Events, also playing at the Traverse; and it’s both moving and fascinating to see how these two great contemporary Scottish playwrights are taking very different routes through the civilisational end-games of our time, Greig working on a global and international canvas, Harrower delving ever deeper into the reality and everyday lies of life in Scotland now, to find the universal truths that lie buried there.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 270



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