I Didn’t Always Live Here is a touching tale of loss, loneliness, and hope. Set in Glasgow in the 1970s, elderly women Martha and Amie live across the landing from each other in the same block of decaying flats. Both with their particular quirks, we see these female protagonists struggle with a damp, cold building that threatens to collapse onto them, escaping into the past for moments of respite and recollection.
Dubbed as a ‘hymn to Glasgow’, Stewart Conn’s play first premiered in 1967 in Glasgow, and has its English premiere at the Finborough. The small, intimate space perfectly complements the real, human nature of the play. Martha, with her dickie leg and only her budgie for company, uses her ostensible cheeriness to detract from the insatiable fear of being forced out on the streets, with no-one to turn to for help. Amie, on the other hand, in slightly more comfortable surroundings and being more physically able, ponders the possible kidnap of her cat Sammy, and entertains the idea of giving a lump sum to the Church in her will.
I Didn’t Always Live Here presents a series of scenes which alternate between the present and the past, both before, during and just after World War II. The story does take a while to warm up however; the ‘meat’ of the plot only becomes clear towards the end, when the true extent of Martha’s loss is evidenced. Yet the carefully nuanced performances leading up to the climactic ending are charming, especially from Jenny Lee as Martha and Eileen Nicholas as Amie. There is much humour in their situation, subverting the lonely ache both women possess deep within, with memories serving as a source of pleasure as well as pain.
The set and costume design by Alex Marker and Susan Kulkarni respectively are impressive, imbued with detail as they are. Director Lisa Blair should be commended for the continuous movement within the play, both between the (many) scenes, and between and within characters, leading to a lovely variety of peaks and troughs that keep the audience gripped.
Despite the surprising lack of multiroling (some characters only appear once), I Didn’t Always Live Here is charming, and oddly uplifting in its humanity, despite the bleakness that often permeates the lives of the characters onstage.