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Review Round-up: Critics Enjoy Good Weep at NT

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Ena Lamont Stewart’s 1947 play Men Should Weep has received a rare revival at the National Theatre, where it opened in the Lyttelton Theatre this week (26 October 2010, previews from 18 October).

In the East End of Glasgow in the 1930s, while her unemployed husband spends his days in the local library, searching for work and latching on to political causes, mother of seven Maggie Morrison battles to hold her extended family together in their damp, squalid tenement house.

Bush artistic director Josie Rourke makes her NT debut, directing a cast led by Sharon Small as Maggie, alongside: Sarah MacRae, Pierce Reid, Anne Downie, Morven Christie, Robert Cavanah, Jayne McKenna, Bobby Barker, Anna Burnett, Therese Bradley, Robert Cavanah, Grace Cooper Milton, Worral Courtney, Karen Dunbar, Abigail Guiver, Alfred Jones, Isabelle Joss, Connor Mannion, Jayne McKenna and Lucy Whiteford.

Overnight critics enjoyed the opportunity to revisit a "remarkable" 20th century classic...

Michael Coveney

"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 … 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 … 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."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

“Scotland has lacked the theatrical self-assertion of Ireland … Scotland's dramatists somehow took less pride in their country's vernacular. One who did - though in life she was neglected - was Ena Lamont Stewart, a daughter of the manse … This play may be a vivid portrait of poverty (and the fecklessness of Scottish men in that era) but nor does it hesitate to condemn the undeserving poor. What a relief to come across a play where the grimness of the poverty is alleviated by laughter and occasional little windows of love … There is plenty of humour here, too. Anne Downie does a good comic turn as Granny, greedy yet listless … At times it is almost like a 1930s precursor of TV's Shameless, with fighting and love tangles and what we would nowadays call dysfunctionality in the family … The accents take a while to understand and the plot, arguably, doesn't move terribly far, but I loved this big-hearted, linguistically athletic play.”

Michael Billington

"Ena Lamont Stewart's remarkable play was a big hit at Glasgow Unity in 1947, famously revived on the Edinburgh fringe in 1982, and now it gets an equally loving revival by Josie Rourke at the National … There had been plays about working-class life before Lamont Stewart's. What makes hers unusual is she views the subject from a woman's perspective … Lamont Stewart creates a host of characters: a prim sister who views all men as ‘dirty beasts’, the mother-in-law who moans that her biscuit has chocolate only on one side, and prying neighbours who might have wandered in from Juno and the Paycock … And, if it takes time to tune in to the Glasgow dialect, the acting is uniformly superb. Sharon Small as the indomitable Maggie, Robert Cavanah as her ineffectual husband, Morven Christie as their hard-hearted daughter-in-law, and Anne Downie as the grumbling old woman inhabit this cluttered world as if it is their natural terrain. This remains a landmark play in British drama."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

“The idea of a three-hour drama about a hard-pressed Glaswegian family enduring a life of grinding poverty in a Glasgow tenement during the great depression of the 1930s seemed a grim, albeit timely, way to spend an evening. But in Josie Rourke’s superb production, this rarely performed play - the only real success of Lamont’s career - proves one of the dramatic highlights of the year, and emerges as an undervalued classic … Rourke directs with both warm, detailed humanity and stunning virtuosity … Holding everything is Maggie Morrison, coping with an out-of-work husband, teething babies, rebellious teenagers, and in one of the play’s most moving scenes, a young son diagnosed with TB. Sharon Small gives a wonderful, heart-catching performance, full of warmth, resilience, and sudden moments of lacerating despair, but the whole company is outstanding.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Men Should Weep is not for the faint-hearted. An unsentimental depiction of crushing poverty in Thirties Glasgow, it’s a gruelling piece of theatre … Bunny Christie’s exquisitely detailed split-level set is crucial to Rourke’s powerful vision of this insanitary milieu. The punctilious direction elicits harrowing performances, with Sharon Small especially compelling as Maggie - a study in angsty pragmatism, dignified until at last she collapses into rage. Robert Cavanah is a tormentedly masculine John, and Jayne McKenna impresses as Maggie’s frosty, pious sister … The first half has its longueurs, and many will quite reasonably feel that the experience is too much like hard work. Yet, revitalised here, Lamont Stewart’s play rewards patient viewing. It has timely things to say about the agonies of austerity and - refreshingly - presents them from a distinctively female perspective.”


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