JOYCE MCMILLAN on YER GRANNY at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 30.5.15.
4 stars ****
IT WAS THE DECADE that taste forgot; the decade of flares and mullets, swirly wallpaper and polystyrene tiles, when hair was big, and time was shorter than anyone realised, not least for the confused left-wing politics of the age. So it’s a pleasure to report that in every aspect of the National Theatre Of Scotland’s blockbusting new comedy – based on Roberto Cossa’s 1977 Argentinian hit La Nona, and now set by Douglas Maxwell in a flat above a failed Glasgow chip-shop, in that same year of glam rock and Jubilee – good taste has gone resolutely absent without leave, to be replaced by satisfying and hideous explosions of everything from bad curtain material to rancid family politics, all revolving around the indulged but revolting figure of old Granny Russo.
Yer Granny, you see, is a hundred-year-old monster of greed and self-absorption, who is steadily eating the family out of house, home and business, while hard-working grandson Cammy and his wife Marie try to keep things going, hindered by Cammy’s workshy brother Charlie, his romantic but useless Aunt Angela, and his lovely but dim-witted daughter Marissa. In Graham McLaren’s fiercely energised production – with memorably hideous set by Colin Richmond – the effect is of an alarming collision between the world of Little Britain and the 1970’s political farce of Dario Fo; and it’s true that the show’s political or symbolic drift never emerges with any clarity, as poor Cammy – played with feeling by Jonathan Watson – conjures up fantasy conversations with the Queen, while comprehensively failing to deal with the all-devouring matriarch – is she capitalism? communism? the welfare state? – at the heart of his own family.
In a sense, though, the show’s lack of a definitive political punch hardly matters, as the plot careers off into ever more surreal and hilarious byways, with Barbara Rafferty excelling herself as Angela, the soppy aunty turned crazed drug-dealer, and Brian Pettifer delivering a pricelessly malodorous turn as Donnie Francisco, rival chip-shop owner and octogenarian Lothario. And at the centre of it all prowls Gregor Fisher’s Granny, as bravely and unrelentingly repulsive as a giant human dung-beetle, steadily devouring pans of stew and hidden cakes, bags of rolls and mountains of crisps; until the chilling final moment when, with every one of her relations either dead of fled, she turns leeringly to us, the audience, and begins to ask, “What’ve you got there?”
King’s Theatre, Glasgow, final performances today. King’s Theatre, Edinburgh 1-6 June, Eden Court, Inverness, 9-13 June, and Dundee Rep, 30 June-4 July.