The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Men Should Weep arrives in Edinburgh with all budgets blazing at the end of an extended tour around the country.
The intervening weeks have seen it mature and harden into a stronger, more potent piece than it was at the outset – although it still has its structural faults as a production.
Lorraine McIntosh, of Deacon Blue fame, leads a fifteen-strong cast as housewife Maggie – at the end of her tether in 1920s depression era Glasgow. Fellow River City star Michael Nardone plays her husband John, all but emasculated by his inability to find work and provide for his family.
The set confines their two-room Gorbals slum tenement into the rusting walls of a shipping container, set around with barbed wire. As grand designs go it works well-enough – placing this as the toxic waste of Scotland’s history: a suppurating sore in the Nation’s consciousness that should be confined to the past but is in constant danger of breaking out.
Between scenes, folk singer Arthur Johnstone brings a music hall popularity to the frankly depressing events on stage, which seem to bleed a lethal mix of pride and poverty from every pore. Songs of triumph over the adversity of grinding poverty hint at hope.
Pride is what keeps Maggie going, with her family of nine all sleeping in the two rooms when eldest son Alec (Kevin Guthrie) and his ne’er-do-well wife Isa (Charlene Boyd) are forced to come home. It just about puts food on the table for the two younger children, with the help of Julie Wilson Nimmo’s sharply created aunt Lily. But it won’t save the infant Bertie from TB, or stop their eldest daughter Jenny from leaving home.
The strength of Ena Lamont Stewart’s play is that she gilds her depiction of their sorry plight with comedy. It is there in this production but never as pronounced as it might be. Which would not matter if the ending did not become so violently emotional.
Without that edge of comedy the ending can appear overwrought – almost to the point of parody.
Runs until Saturday