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A bleak comedy of poverty and squalor among Glasgow tenement- dwellers is sadly as relevant now as it was 50 years ago, as director Tony Graham tells Neil Cooper.
Remarkable as it seems, political theatre companies back in the 19803 were still allowed the resources to produce large-scale work of a type which wouldn't ordinarily be given a voice. The pinnacle ofthis approach was 7:84‘s ambitious Clydebuilt season of neglected West of Scotland classics decidedly nor of the drawing room and chaise-longue variety; and Ena Lamont Stewart‘s Men Should Weep — at the time unperforrned since Glasgow Unity’s l947 production — was the decided hit of the season, in terms of
playwriting skills and production values.
Set in a Glasgow tenement during the 1930s depression. the grim naturalism of Stewart’s play was given a stylistic jolt in the 1982 production by Citizens’ Theatre director Giles Havergal, to the extent that no company since has dared go near the
play lest they be overshadowed.
Until now, that is. A new co-production between TAG and Dundee Rep aims to put Men Should Weep back in the spotlight in what, fourteen years on. are changed days indeed. Director Tony Graham's initial
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ihirties something: Pauline Knowles in Men Should Weep
motivation to brave the play came from teachers‘ and pupils’ responses to the piece during a series of workshops last year. ‘In a lot of ways we walk a tightrope.’ says Graham. ‘in that it’s important for us to do work not on the schools curriculum. which is what happened with Ixoutrk [the company's major production last year]. But then we also have to have some responsibility towards that curriculum.‘ Having seen the l982 production. Graham ultimately felt he had to rise to the challenge for reasons ofartistic integrity. First off. though. he had to see if Men Should Weep still stood up as a play. The answer was most deﬁnitely in the afﬁrrnative. ‘The play’s remarkable for many reasons.’ he , explains. ‘First off. it was the ﬁrst play by a woman in a very male-centred left-wing culture that was Glasgow Unity. Then 30 years later Lamont Stewart revised it. taking out the melodrama. Then what happened in the 1982 production was we saw the ﬁrst modemist staging of a Scots classic. which brought together 7:84‘s hard political drive with the style and
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feel of the Citz.‘
Graham's slant on things aims to draw from the play itself, though his own profoundly anti-naturalistic directorial stance aims for a mix of the realistic and the abstract. ‘There‘s a poetry in the play which is there in the title itself.‘ he says. ‘First of all you have this detnotic Glaswegian, which is almost onornatopoeic at times. Then you see these ordinary everyday incidents transcend into the epic and universal.‘ Haifa century after its original
‘It unfortunately couldn’t be more appropriate to do the play now in Britain. One of the reasons for originally doing it was because it was saying we should never go back to the Thirties. it’s a shame that 50 years on that message is still pertinent.’
production. Graham sees the play as having glaring contemporary resonances.
‘l‘m rather interested in the political background to the whole piece.’ he says. ‘in that both previous productions were done by overtly left-wing companies. while we‘re doing it at a time when left- wing theatre is barely allowed to function. Setting aside all theatre history, it unfortunately couldn’t be more appropriate to do the play now in Britain. in 1982 we‘d had Thatcher for three years. by which time there was much talk about social engineering. Now, ﬁfteen years later, the whole political map’s been redrawn. One of the reasons for originally doing it was because it was saying we should never go back to the 30s. It‘s a shame that 50 years on that message is still pertinent and still has to be got over.’ (Neil
Men Should Weep. TAG/Dundee Rep Theatre Company. MacRobert Arts Centre. Stirling TueI/Wed 2 Oct; Tramway. Glasgow. Tue 8—Sat I 9 Oct; Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh, Wed 30 Oct—Sun 3 Nov.
Mature Danish blues
Draped into a chair in a backstage office at the Citizens” Theatre, contemplative but with a hint of antic disposition, clad entirely in black, Philip Prowse could almost pass for the Prince oi Denmark. True, he’s a little old ior it - it’s been 26 years since he and Giles llavergal took over the tilt: - but then, the part oi llamlet does require some maturity. ‘You need to be grown-up to play a part at that size, to lead a company,’ says Prowse, who’s directing and designing a new production oi llanlet. ‘lle is 30, and he would have been played by Burbage [Shdrespeare’s leading actor], who
Man In black: Cal Mackninch In the television play Nervous Energy
was more than 30.’
But isn’t llamlet something of an overgrown adolescent - forever criticising his elders, but unable to take on an adult’s mantle? ‘Adoiescence is an aspect of llamlet,’ Prowse agrees. ‘Certainly he goes through a great rite of passage through the play, and I think the tragedy is in tact that by the time he’s killed, he’s actually ready to be king. lie is fulfilling his potential, and it’s taken away irom him.’
‘ihe first show in a new season at the Citimns’, this is the company’s fourth Ilanrlet. Although Prowse has designed all tour, and directed the 1975 version, he denies any long- standing affinity with the play but says the idea occurred when he saw actor Cal MacAninch in lloward Schuman’s AIDS drama Nervous Energy, screened on 3302 last December.
‘lle’s been here for a tow years doing smaller parts,’ Prowse
explains. ‘I saw him in this, and asked him if he would play llamlet.’ its simple as that.
And did MacAninch jump at the chance to play the role for which many actors wouldn’t hesitate to kill their uncles? ‘Yes, he seemed quite . . . keen,’ murmurs Prowse.
One of several Hamlets in Scotland this season, the play might be viewed as a crowd-puller for a theatre known to have had its financial struggles this year. But the doomy reports, it seems, were exaggerated. ‘l’here wasn’t a crisis,’ says Prowse. ‘It could have been quite serious, because at the time it was reported we didn’t know how that money was going to be made up. llow we’re back to a fairly ordinary situation.’
Ordinary is not a word readily associated with the Oitz. let’s settle for ‘buslness as usual’. (Andrew Burnet)
Manlet, citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Fr! 27 Sept-Sat 19 Oct.
The List 20 Sept-3 Oct I996 51