JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE COLLECTION at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 12.9.13.
3 stars ***
THERE are three main aims, says director Michael Emans, behind Rapture Theatre’s intense new revival of Mike Cullen’s 1996 play The Collection, now on tour across Scotland: to entertain audiences, to offer them a dramatic roller-coaster ride, and to give them pause for thought about ever-more-pressing issues of personal debt.
The problem with Cullen’s play, though, is that it really only fulfils the second of those aims. A bleak urban-noir tragedy in ten scenes, The Collection is set mainly in the collectors’ office of a Glasgow loan-shark company, where three employees – elderly Bob, new recruit Billy, and hard-man boss Joe – each find their own way of dealing with a job that involves preying on the misery of others. The play aspires to combine tragedy with a David-Mamet style black humour; but in truth, entertainment is in short supply, as Joe and Billy’s joyless dog-eat-dog banter becomes ever more crass, sexist and repellent.
Nor, alas, does the play really have much to say about personal debt; for all it does, over two hours, is to circle obsessively around the fact that faced with a final debt crisis, some female clients will offer themselves to the collector, as a quid pro quo. It’s this terrible remembered moment of temptation and corruption – revisited in encounters with a current client – that finally drives Bob to terminal despair.
The woman in the case, though, remains little more than a cipher of conflicting signals. And not all the grace of Emans’s production – featuring a terrific central performance from Jimmy Chisholm as Bob, and strong visual images by designer Lyn McAndrew – can wholly redeem a play which, in the end, says only what was obvious at the start: that where money becomes the only measure of worth, human beings dwindle into cruel, ridiculous caricatures of themselves, and life becomes hell.