JOYCE MCMILLAN on MRS BARBOUR’S DAUGHTERS at Oran Mor, Glasgow, and LINWOOD NO MORE at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 11.10.14.
Mrs. Barbour’s Daughters 4 stars ****
Linwood No More 2 stars **
THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE of Scotland may shift and quake; but the nation’s theatre community have always played a key role in reminding us where the main landmarks are, and ensuring that unsung heroes and heroines are not hidden from history. Mary Barbour – celebrated in A.J. Taudevin’s new 50-minute play for the Play, Pie And Pint season – was one of those heroines, the woman who led the Glasgow rent strike of 1914, after tenement landlords tried to impose massive increases on the wives and families of serving soldiers; and who went on to become a city councillor, and a hugely influential campaigner for the welfare of women and children in Scotland’s cities.
It’s good to report, though, that Taudevin’s play is no simple act of hagiography, but a complex reflection on family history, in which 87-year-old Mary – named after Mrs. Barbour – reflects on a life shaped by he own bitter reaction against the family radical tradition, represented by her older sister Grace. Cared for by Grace’s robust daughter Joan, who cheerfully tolerates her abuse, Mary revisits the 1930’s, the 1940’s and the 1950’s; and although she wants only to hear the easy-listening tunes on her battered radio, Grace’s voice brings another kind of song back to her troubled mind, songs of struggle and liberation which finally swell into a magnificent choral conclusion.
Mary’s stubborn bitterness perhaps persists too far into the drama; the play needs to seem more like a journey, less like a sudden volte-face. Yet the powerful texture of Taudevin’s writing supports a fine trio of performances from Anna Hepburn as Mary, Gail Watson as Grace, and Libby McArthur as both Joan and Mrs. Barbour; and lunchtime audiences at the Traverse next week can look forward to a thought-provoking piece of radical history, with an added chance to join in the final chorus of Bella Ciao.
Paul Coulter’s Linwood No More, playing briefly at the Tron, is a 45-minute monologue built around another vital piece of Scottish working-class history – the short, sad story of the huge Linwood car plant which opened with such high hopes in 1963, and closed with the loss of more than 13,000 jobs just 18 years later. The sole character in Coulter’s play is one of the victims of that closure, now a down-and-out glimpsed on a Glasgow park bench 19 year on, at the turn of the millennium.
Coulter’s text is too brief to achieve much depth, and too straightfoward in its intention to do much more than state what should be obvious – that people end up on the streets not because they are different from the rest of us, but because they are the same, and often just unlucky in the fierce combination of disasters with which they have to deal. Yet Vincent Friell delivers a heartfelt and very moving performance, in a show that serves to remind us of the profound human tragedy behind the phrase “Linwood no more”, which the Proclaimers went on to write into our cultural history.