Portrait of a disappearing Gorbals

Swing Hammer Swing! Citizens, Glasgow THEATRE
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
It would seem that Scottish novelists have a surer touch than their playwriting peers these days: Swing Hammer Swing! is one of two adaptations of contemporary Scottish novels that the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow is currently staging. The other is the sell-out revival of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, a journey through Edinburgh's drugs sub- culture reviewed here last week.

Swing Hammer Swing! has been adapted from Jeff Torrington's Whitbread Award-winning novel by Giles Havergal. It is an account of the trials and tribulations of a young working-class aspiring novelist from the Gorbals, Tam Clay (Alistair Galbraith), struggling to raise some money as Christmas rapidly approaches and his pregnant wife Rhona (Blyth Duff) is in hospital with high blood pressure.

It is set in 1968, the height of the slum clearance programme in Glasgow, which particularly affected the Gorbals. The old tenements were being flattened and the communities were moved wholesale to new housing schemes on the outskirts of the city or into new high-rise blocks being built as the rubble was cleared.

The novel is an emphatically first-person account of Tam's pre-Christmas odyssey through Gorbals life, with strong echoes of James Joyce's Dublin odyssey, and a similar joy in poeticised vernacular. Havergal solves the problem of the first person by sharing the narration between all the cast members, so that only one actor plays Tam, but his interior monologue moves around among all of the cast, working as a chorus.

Kenny Miller's set places the play in a bleak monochrome wasteland of rubble and corrugated iron, with snow and ash falling from the burning tenements. The actors, too, are costumed in black and white Sixties-style suits and miniskirts. Only Tam is allowed technicolour all the time: Army surplus jacket and flared jeans.

Between them the cast play more than 60 characters in the duration of the play, including Joe Fiducci, the barber; Shug Wylie, the lavatory attendant; Talky Sloane, the old Communist. But herein lies the major problem in translating a novel that describes a whole community on to the stage. Whereas a novel has the time to give the characters depth and background, an actor on stage may only have one or two lines to try to convey the same thing. And in spite of some delightful characterisations created by the company - Sandy Welch as Paddy Cullen, the drunken projectionist of the Planet Cinema, and Kathryn Howden as the beehive-coiffured local man-eater, to name but two - the sheer number that have to be portrayed eventually overwhelm the production.

n Runs until 1 April (Box- office: 0141-429 5561)

Comments