Och, if only the Whingers hudnae been gigglin’ at the back of the class like the auld bufter dafties they are and had paid more attention when they attended Stanley Baxter‘s School of Glaswegian Language (see instructional videos below) they might have grasped what Men Should Weep at the National Theatre was al aboot.
But, mibbe, some of Baxter’s lessons did sink in all those years ago when wee bits came back tae them and they began tae get their heids roon Ena Lamont Stewart‘s dialogue about halfway through the first act.
It’s written in a cunning code in which each vowel sound is carefully replaced with a different one so that “dropped down dead” for example is delivered as “drapped doon deed” and “no more” becomes “nay mayer”. All very confusing.
Anyway, according tae our very reliable source the 1947 play what Ena Lamont Stewart wrote took her just two days and during the sluggish first hour (of three) that wasnae hard tae believe. One might describe it as a slow burn, were there coal to burn. But the play is set in the clatty household of the Morrison faimly during the 1930s depression. The family lives in poverty so grinding that a tin of baked beans between them is a treat and knickers are a luxury. Indeed they are so poor that they will make do with any vowels they can get their hands on, they’re not fussy.
And that’s about it. There’s a cast of about 20 including an ungrateful daughter determined to escape the poverty, a hen-packed son, a siren of a daughter in law, a child with TB and a supporting cast of head-lice.
Sadly it doesn’t really perk up until Act III but it’s all very well drawn, well played, well staged (the director is The Bush Theatre’s Josie Rourke) and a timely reminder of what poverty used to mean – and may mean again before long – when football boots and a wireless were pipe dreams, healthcare for the poor relied on charity and flat screen TVs were not considered one of life’s basic entitlements.
But if the Government’s Spending Review may see poverty becoming fashionable again, the New Age of Austerity has yet to envelop the National Theatre: this really is one of the most conspicuously extravagant sets we have seen since, well, Bunny Christie’s last designs at the National.
Although the action pretty much takes place in one room the designer has provided three floors of the boggin tenement building complete with stairways to the left and fartstack rooms to the right. In fact the upper floor is cut off so you only see the feet of the people upstairs (and from the front rows of the stalls rarely even those).
And it wasn’t until the Whingers returned somewhat reluctantly for the second half (more than a wee few dinnae return) that they realised that from certain seats the floor below the family’s apartment is also visible.
Between scenes bars of light divide up the nine playing areas so it didnae look so much like a Glasgow tenement as a Gorbals Celebrity Squares with all the action performed by a host of Rab C Nesbit impersonators in Willie Rushton’s central box.
Phil just about resisted screaming out “Hello Bobby”, “Hello Pattie” during the scene changes.
It was all in rather a strange contrast to the poverty depicted and Andrew found himself getting quite uncomfortable about the expenditure. Yes, one values the arts, but mightn’t the arts show a bit of humility? Phil wondered if Andrew might be getting a bit political and made a mental note to stop listening although happily now that his lugholes were adjusted to their Glasgae setting, Andrew’s pronouncements seemed even more than usually to be mere background noises.
Of course it was thrilling to see someone opening a can live on stage with an old fashioned can-opener but it did all seem rather sluggish, rambling and long (3 hours). It wasn’t getting many laughs either. Still, this was an early preview. Understudy Louise Montgomery made an impressive substitution as Lily Gibb.
There were some physical casting problems too – Jenny (Sarah MacRae) seemed far too old to be Maggie’s (Sharon Small 43) daughter and both she and Isa (Morven Christie) seemed too high born. Still, it was nice to see a character named after a tax-efficient savings vehicle. Another character was called John Morrison.
And for that genuine sense of poverty there should have been more TB on the stage than in the auditorium, which clearly was not the case the night we went.
But we did enjoy the miserable gran complaining there’s chocolate on only one side of her biscuit, followed by a live-on-stage dunking disaster.
Still, it was an education and the Whingers are now so immersed in our Glasgae lessons that we’d like to pass on a useful phrase, which probably should be applied to us at all times: ”stoapyerguernin” which translates “kindly refrain from whining”.
Before you attend Men Should Weep we suggest watching these short instructional films and you’ll probably get much more out of your evening than we did: