JOYCE MCMILLAN on LOVE WITH A CAPITAL “L” at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 31.3.14.
3 stars ***
AMID A PRE-REFERENDUM TORRENT of argument about Scots and their place in the Union, no figure looms more intriguingly over the debate than John Reith, the mighty Presbyterian who was the founding Director-General of the BBC. Tony Cox’s new two-hander for the Play, Pie and Pint season – set to travel on to the Traverse this week, and then to Birnam – makes no direct reference to Reith’s Scottish identity; but this brief 40-minute dialogue, set in Reith’s office around 1930, does explore the almost missionary sense of religious piety that drove his work, and the intense inner conflicts it created in a passionate man who never found sexual or emotional fulfilment.
The play begins as Reith calls into his office his young Head of Talks, Hilda Matheson, who has – in Reith’s view – been commissioning broadcasts from too many left-wing liberals, including members of the Bloomsbury Group. It soon becomes clear, though that Reith’s reprimand has a subtext, as he uses accusations against Matheson over her relationship with Vita Sackville-West to reveal his own torment over an early lost love-affair with a young male friend.
In Hamish Pirie’s production, Benny Young and Lesley Hart play Reith and Matheson with feeling, although in a style that sometimes seems as stilted as the prosier portions of the script. And although the play’s message is finally very simple – that the historic suppression of homosexual love created boundless unhappiness – it still comes as a vivid reminder of that sad truth, in the week when gay couples in England and Wales gained the right to marry, at last.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 1-5 April, and Birnam Arts Centre, 7-11 April.