JOYCE MCMILLAN on DIVIDED at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for the Scotsman 11.9.12.
3 stars ***
Ian Pattison is still best known as the man who wrote the Rab. C. Nesbitt comedy show for BBC Scotland; but in recent years, he’s also become a significant presence in live theatre. Next week, his version of the Tommy Sheridan story, I Tommy, opens for a brief run at the Glasgow Pavilion; and this week, the Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season features his new 50-minute play about the great Glasgow-born radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing, whose 1960 book The Divided Self changed the world of psychiatry for ever.
There’s nothing too complex about the point Pattison seeks to make in this deft and well-written play for three actors, driven by Laing’s own mercurial monologues about his life and work. While Laing theorises about the the failures of the family, his own children – ten of them, by four different women – suffer from his absence, his distance, and his tendency to experiment with their feelings; here, we see his tragic failure to offer consistent love and support to his two Glasgow daughters, Susie – who died of leukaemia in 1976 at the age of 21 – and Karen, who eventually followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming a psychotherapist.
If the shape of the play is simple, though, its detail is often superb, with Billy Mack in fine form as a funny, arrogant, and instinctively absurdist Laing, one of the living embodiments of a great age of social and psychological experimentation; in Paddy Cunneen’s production, a muted version of Pink Floyd’s great 1973 album Dark Side Of The Moon plays on the soundtrack, a perfect counterpoint to Laing’s hectic middle years. And although their background roles offer limited scope, Gemma McElhinney and Rebecca Elise are poignant and forceful as the daughters, the one facing a grim fate without the Dad for whose presence she yearns, the other struggling to forgive, and finally learning to accept.