Theatre: Men Should Weep Dundee Repertory

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The Independent Culture
Don't Look Back in Anger or Else is all too often the theatrical response and cop out to the recent past. Practitioners seem to prefer to whitewash where it was really at with cheap sentiment and endless "Good Old Days" singalongs, particularly when addressing the Thirties and Forties. Such Stalinist rewriting of history is particularly prevalent in - adopt patronising tone - Scottish Working Class Drama, with much of what passes for it these days being lame bums-on-seats exercises that insult the intelligence of the audiences it claims to want to reach.

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 223530