As the country struggles with financial hardships it’s a timely revival for the National Theatre of Ena Lamont Stewart’s look at the 1930s depression. Set in a rundown Glasgow tenement, life is tough for the Morrison family. Eleven family members are crammed in the tiny, dank, dark kitchen and bedroom set up. Dad is out of work, mother struggling to feed the children and keep the depressing rooms as close to homely as possible. Add in an elderly grandmother, a son suffering TB, teenage rebellion, affairs and police problems and it doesn’t sound like a cheery evening.
Stewart’s script though is packed with dry, dark humour. The family may not have much but they do possess a sharp tongue and a quick wit.
Designer Bunny Christie’s multi-tiered set hints at the cramped conditions that replicate floor after floor in this impoverished Glaswegian community, we can merely glimpse the lives of the neighbours but it’s enough to show how the Morrison family troubles are by no means unique.
This is a community where women are a force to be reckoned with and at the heart of the piece is a gutsy performance by Sharon Small as put upon mother and wife Maggie. Most of the time she bites her tongue but when she lets forth she’s a force to be reckoned with. Husband John (Robert Cavanah) and wimpish son Alec (Pierce Reid) may try to convey that they are alpha males but it is clear who wears the trousers in this household. There are also wonderfully observed performances by Karen Dunbar and Isabelle Joss as well meaning but intrusive neighbours and Sarah MacRae as rebellious daughter turned good Jenny.
Director Josie Rourke plays the piece naturalistically and sensibly allows the comedy to develop from the characters. She also downplays the melodrama, again allowing for the grim reality of life in the block to establish its own pathos.
This isn’t a show for the faint hearted but it does reward the concentration. Yes it does take a while to attune to the thick Glaswegian dialect and the ‘happy’ ending does seem somewhat contrived but this is a well deserved revival of a historically relevant slice of Scottish life.