Published in the Guardian
Pathhead Hall, Kirkcaldy
TS ELIOT called him "the greatest Scots poet since Burns".Yet
not only is Joe Corrie hardly a household name but, as a coal miner who
wrote his best-known play during the general strike of 1926, he had
little in common, politically or socially, with the author of The Waste
Land. Eliot notwithstanding, Corrie was always coolly received by the
establishment, which is why he dedicated the best part of his creative
career – some 50 plays – to Scotland's amateur stage.
It is director Graham McLaren's contention that even In Time o'
Strife, a landmark play staged by Corrie to great success in the late
20s, was dramaturgically underdeveloped. That's why, in this National
Theatre of Scotland production, he has seen fit to play fast and loose.
He has gutted the script, dropped characters, reordered scenes and
inserted borrowed material from elsewhere in the Corrie canon. The tale
of a Fife mining community buckling under the strain of a seven-month
lockout now features gutsy folk-punk renditions of Corrie poems by Michael John McCarthy and tense dance sequences choreographed by Imogen Knight.
The meeting of music, dance and drama is frequently exhilarating and, with the costumes nodding to 1984 – the year of the last big strike
– as much as 1926, the production has a rare political anger. But
despite McLaren's success in jolting the play out of its period setting,
he finds it harder to resist its pull of domestic naturalism. With a
design that exchanges a miner's cottage for the fluid space of a
community hall, the production calls for the operatic. Instead, the
director encourages an introspective style of acting that leans too
heavily on the play's pathos. Given the theatrical flair elsewhere, it
makes for an evening that is as uneven as it is charged.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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