MEN SHOULD WEEP
by Ena Lamont Stewart.
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 9 January 2011.
Runs: 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 26 October.
And the tears go on.
Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should Weep offers a typical female playwright’s tale. Stewart writes the play in the 1940s, it opens in Glasgow in 1947, is such a success it transfers to Edinburgh then London. Then nothing. The play lies discarded before – like Githa Sowerby’s earlier Rutherford & Son) – being `rediscovered’ as a classic, in this case by John McGrath and his 7:84 Theatre Company in the early 1980s.
Part of the great school of 20th century working class naturalism, Stewart’s 1930s tenement saga is a testimony to the hardships experienced by so many women, particularly in Glasgow during the Depression. A line shoots out from it. “Our crime is to be born into poverty,” cries Stewart’s central male character, the often unemployed but basically decent John Morrison.
It’s the sentiment as the workers in Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, striking a chord especially when the Victorian idea of the `undeserving poor’ is once more beginning to take hold in society.
Stewart’s account is less ideological than Tressell’s all-male working-man’s drama, but in many respects is its equivalent. The way she represents women’s lives centre-stage, focused around one family and its mother, Maggie, remains unsurpassed.
Josie Rourke’s jazz-soaked production and Bunny Christie’s extraordinary double-storied set makes patent the tenement squalor – one-room living with its crowded, overworked chaos and ever-present neighbours, with their bitchy gossiping but also female support. Domestic violence is never far away, nor a child who seem to spring from everywhere.
All generations are pressed together from grandparents to babes in arms. When rebellion comes, inevitably it comes violently, born, Stewart shows of deprivation and a young generation’s aspirations for something better.
Today’s generation looked on as if amazed at the social document unfolding before them – the harshness and the pity of it.
Not all of the dialogue comes across. Stewart’s Glasgow dialect is uncompromisingly authentic and hard to decipher to Sassenach ears. But there’s no doubting the play’s continuing ability to grab today’s audience sympathies, even as they recognise their own family and economic conflicts in those of poverty-stricken Glaswegians 80 years ago.
Maggie Morrison: Sharon Small.
John: Robert Cavanah.
Granny Morrison: Anne Downie.
Lily Gibb: Jayne McKenna.
Alec Morrison: Pierce Reid.
Isa: Morven Christie.
Jenny Morrison: Sarah MacRae.
Edie Morrison: Anna Burnett/Grace Cooper Milton.
Ernest Morrison: Conor Mannion.
Marina Morrison: Kira Caple/Abigail Guiver.
Bertie Morrison: Bobby Barker/Worral Courtney/Alfred Jones.:
Mrs Harris: Karen Dunbar.
Mrs Wilson: Lindy Whiteford.
Mrs Bone: Isabelle Joss.
Lizzie: Thérèse Bradley.
First Removal man: Ben Adams.
Second Removal man: Joseph Creeth.
Ensemble: Mark Armstrong, Sally Armstrong, Louise Montgomery, Chloe Pirrie.
Director: Josie Rourke.
Designer: Bunny Christie.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Music: Michael Bruce.
Movement: Jack Murphy.
Company voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Dialect consultant: Carol Ann Crawford.
Fight director: Bret Yount.