JOYCE MCMILLAN on DRAWER BOY at Dundee Rep, for The Scotsman 3.11.14.
4 stars ****
TRUTH, LIES, LOVE, war, friendship, and the stories we human beings tell, to ourselves and those we love. The themes are huge, in Michael Healey’s award-winning 1999 play Drawer Boy, now revived by Mull Theatre in a hugely successful touring production, which makes final appearances this week in Inverness, Dunfermline, Musselburgh and Peebles.
The origins of this play are complex, reaching back to the time in the 1970’s when Healey, as a young, vaguely radical actor, spent time on a small farm in Ontario while gathering material for a legendary piece of Canadian theatre known as The Farm Show. More than two decades later, though, he felt impelled to return to his memories of that time, and of the farmers he met; and the result is this beautiful, intense and thoughtful play about the middle-aged farmer Morgan, his friend and fellow-farmer Angus who sustained a serious brain injury in the London blitz when they were young servicemen together, and the young actor, Miles, whose presence on the farm – hearing their shared stories, using them, making something new of them – triggers an immense, cathartic crisis in their relationship.
Alasdair McCrone’s exquisite production makes a superb job of lifting this three-handed domestic play – set in an and around the farmhouse kitchen – into a context that makes us feel the scale of the drama, powerfully conjured up, in Alicia Hendricks’s beautiful set, by the vast sky full of stars that surrounds the house. The “drawer boy” of the title is Angus, the brilliant but damaged man whose rekindled memory lies at the heart of the play; he was once able to draw brilliant plans of the futures he and his friend might have had, and the play offers a powerful recurring image of the human capacity to plan, dream and invent, and how those imagined worlds remain part of our lives.
In a perfectly-balanced cast, Barrie Hunter is subtle and absolutely central as Morgan, the friend who tells big, loving stories to Angus, and little, mocking ones to Miles, purely for amusement. James Mackenzie is an archetypal Miles, full of the wide-eyed insensitivity of youth. And Alasdair McCrone himself is a magnificent Angus, short of memory-power, but still a man in full, seizing his chance – when it comes – of understanding more about his life, and about the friend with whom he shares it; in a haunting and beautiful show that represents Scottish touring theatre at its best, skilful, passionate, unpretentious, and supremely well-crafted.