Published in the Guardian
You'd like to think The Sash had passed its sell-by date. It would be nice if, as it approaches its 40th anniversary, Hector MacMillan's taut domestic drama about sectarianism came across as a curious relic of a more divided time. But the large audiences flocking to Rapture Theatre's revival on a six-week mainstage tour, not to mention the continued efforts of the anti-prejudice Nil By Mouth campaign, suggests the wounds of Catholic-Protestant antagonism in Scotland run deep.
It's set in Glasgow on the morning of 12 July as dedicated Orangeman Bill MacWilliam, played by a blustery Stewart Porter, shrugs off his hangover and prepares for the day's celebrations of Protestant victory in the Battle of the Boyne. In his all-male household, crippled by emotional inarticulacy, the upholding of tradition seems boorish and aggressive. That's why his sceptical son Cameron, a buttoned-up Colin Little, has no intention of marching.
By contrast, the Irish Catholic downstairs neighbours are female and fertile, though they are no less intransigent. Things are changing, however. There's a whiff in the air of the new "permissive society" while, for the pregnant Una, an impassioned Ashley Smith, the socialism of James Connolly speaks more powerfully than any dogma from Rome. In these terms, the play takes on a universal theme about a young generation trying to free itself from the prison of tradition.
For all that, director Michael Emans's old-fashioned box-set production does little to suggest contemporary relevance. Even in the published edition of 1974, MacMillan says "no strictly realistic set is called for", so it's a shame to find such a literal tenement living-room design in 2013. Neither can it have been the playwright's intention for the actors to be so frequently upstaged by the furniture, but their performances are strong and there's spark enough still in the language to hold the attention.
At King's, Edinburgh, until 4 May, 0131 529 6000, then on tour until 1 June. Details: www.rapturetheatre.co.uk