Bush Theatre director Josie Rourke makes an impressive NT debut, filling the big wide stage with a full segment of the tenement, rather like a doll’s house, where we focus on the trials and tribulations of the Morrison family and, in particular, the matriarch Maggie Morrison.
Bunny Christie’s split-level design shows us other residents of the block, away to the side and, most tellingly, up above: a man savagely beats his pregnant wife, a woman next door dresses slowly, a neighbour opposite disappears to confront a bleating husband.
Admittedly these snippets don’t have the “lived” intensity you might expect in a full “Lower Depths” treatment, nor does the production carry the emotional weight or poetic beauty of Giles Haveregal’s 7:84 revival (there’s an awful lot of “shouty” shouting, and the wigs are abysmal; why do they bother?).
But the superb third act draws magnificently together as Maggie (Sharon Small) makes the best of Christmas in her brand new red hat, the prodigal daughter (Sarah MacRae) returns home, and elder son Alec (Pierce Reid) and his flirtatious wife Isa (Morven Christie) run each other ragged.
There is an outstanding performance, too, from Robert Cavanah as John Morrison, a casual labourer, doing his best, but prone to terrible fits of violence against both wife and daughter, and a really lovely one from Anne Downie as the sly old Granny, tucked up in bed before she’s ready.
Pressures of proximity are powerfully expressed, but so are the rays of hope and happiness, as when Maggie and her sister (Jayne McKenna) high-tail it to see the “posh shops on Sauchie,” or the neighbours reminisce about outings to the La Scala cinema: “I was that excited I didn’t notice there was silver paper on my toffees until I was half way through them.”