Theatre Review: Men Should Weep

Posted on: 03 November 2010 by Alexander Hay

A raw salute to the human spirit in its portrayal of impoverished 1930 Glasgow is provided by Ena Lamount Stewart's unjustly neglected drama, 'Men Should Weep', which was voted one of the top hundred plays of the last century in the NTY millenium poll and is now revived in a new production directed by Josie Rourke at the NT's Lyttleton auditorium.

Despite cramped tenement living and the turmoil of seven children, there is laughter and strength in the Morrison family. Tough and tender mother Maggie just about holds together her unruly brood against wretched poverty. But sniping neighbours, the flight of daughter Jenny and the unexpected return to their overcrowded quarters of Maggie's son and his sexually restless wife erodes her spirit.

And then just as temporary employment for beloved husband John affords a decent Christmas, wayward Jenny returns with new-found wealth, offering them the chance of escape and one big moral dilemma.

This sprawling 1947 play differs from other works on the subject such as 'Love on the Dole' in that is seen from a female perspective. Indeed, this buoyant, violent, cacophonous portrait of a tenement community for whom a tin of baked beans is an undreamed -of luxury reveals what economic hardship really means. Yet despite its these this is not a depressing work but a moving and funny one, although it does take some time to get used to the Glaswegian dialect.

However at almost three hours this revival does seem over-long and very slow in places, with some of the characters underwritten. But it is refreshingly free of sentimentality, realistically staged and certainly rings true with some exquisitely detailed split-level sets in the form of an enlarged doll's house, enabling us to see glimpses of adjacent lives in the tenement block, providing a powerful vision of this insanitary milieu.

Rourke elicits fine performances from her strong NT ensemble, notably Robert Cavanah as the weak but decent patriarch John Morrison, who laments at one point "All we've done is to be born into poverty", Sharon Small as his tireless, indomitable wife Maggie, Sarah MacRae, making her processional début , as the couple's glamorous daughter Jenny, Morven Christie as their hard-hearted daughter-in-law, Jayne McKenna as Maggie's frosty, pious sister, and Ann Downie as John's ailing mother.

This is certainly a work which rewards patience and has some timely things to say about the agonies of austerity.

By Laurence Green

Plays in repertory until January 9
Box Office: 0207 452 3000
Press: 0207 452 3333

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Alexander Hay

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