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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Men Should Weep, theatre review

Pic: Louise McCarthy and Lorraine McIntosh Pic: Manuel Harlan

Published in the Guardian
Four stars

The tenement flat is claustrophobic, cramped and colourless. There is no room for manoeuvre between sink, table and bed, yet new people constantly arrive and are somehow absorbed. In Ena Lamont Stewart's 1947 slice-of-life tragedy, the inhabitants are caged creatures who can do nothing but lash out.

So when Arthur Johnstone walks on stage between scenes to sing a working-class folk song, he brings a heady shift in perspective. On the one hand, he offers a release from the grim intensity of so much 1930s deprivation, piled on by Lamont Stewart in an unflinching vision of poverty's social consequences. For the audience to join in The Day We Went to Rothesay, O' is like coming up for air.

On the other hand, Johnstone's songs put the play in a tradition of socialist dissent: "We've been yoked to the plough since time first began" goes The Workers' Song. These full-voiced songs emphasise that the hardships of Men Should Weep are not an anomaly, but part of a pattern. Like the scene of modern deprivation (shell suits, corrugated iron and barbed wire) that frames Graham McLaren's powerful production for the National Theatre of Scotland, the songs give this brutally unsentimental play a political and historical context.

Likewise, playing the stoic matriarch Maggie, Lorraine McIntosh brilliantly conveys the sense of being a product of her economic circumstances. She is merciless in criticising her neighbours, ferocious in disciplining her children, and vocal in her complaint that there is "nae work for the men, but aye plenty for the women". 

Yet, behind her fury, she shows us a good-hearted woman making the most of the little she's got. As our own government demonises the poor, hers is an example as pertinent as ever.

© Mark Fisher 2011

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