Mercifully, this timely revival of Ena Lamont Stewart's play, first performed by Glasgow Unity in 1947, spectacularly revived by a vibrant 7:84 in 1982, and now presented here in a co-production between TAG and Dundee Rep, falls prey to none of these late 20th-century theatrical conceits, and could give any opportunist whipper-snappers a run for their tuppence ha'penny.
Set in a damp and dilapidated Glasgow tenement - and they still exist - over-run by the offspring of John and Maggie Morrison, the play unflinchingly charts the day-to-day struggles of the family against a microcosm of society's ills, where men are men despite everything, and the women either go the way of daughter Jenny and daughter-in-law Isa, whose sly, upwardly mobile street-savvy is acquired from endless hours in picture houses, or else knuckle down and keep the household together as best one can, which is Maggie's option. When John and Maggie's youngest child takes ill with TB, though, the entire family must swallow their pride to ensure his survival.
Despite the obvious temptations of the material, Tony Graham's stylish production is never maudlin. Indeed, such is the noble resistance to melodrama that at times it works against the play's emotional impact, with moments of tension not being held as much as they should be, instead being allowed to dissipate without any noticeable and necessary change of mood. What it does do, quite crucially and without any recourse to didacticism, is present us with a living, breathing picture of the Thirties, which reminds us just how awful the decade was, while shrugging its shoulders and asking - fully aware of how any human gains made over the past 50 years have all but been destroyed - what has really changed?
As John, Vincent Friel presents an accurately uptight bundle of contradictions, on the one hand autodidact firebrand, on the other patriarchal chauvinist, while Craig Fraser, as the weak-willed son, has real edge. But full honours, as in the Terence Davies films the play is so akin to, must go to the women. Catherine Keating, Pauline Knowles, and especially Mary McCusker as Maggie present a trio of heartily determined survivors. It's doubtful whether this production will have the same impact as its forebears, but it remains a template anyone interested in "popular theatre" should look to before reducing their flimsy wares any further. And yes, we are all prostitutes, and no, there's not a jot of shame in it.
n To 28 Sept. Booking: 01382 223530Reuse content