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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National (Lyttelton)


  Robert Cavanah and Sharon Small/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

Having successfully resurrected Terence Rattigan’s forgotten After the Dance, the National Theater continues its excavation of undervalued treasures with Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should Weep.
A throwback to the Irish masterpieces of Sean O’Casey, but without the lyricism, the play received great acclaim when it was first staged by Glasgow’s Unity Theatre in 1947. Apart from a Fringe production at the 1982 Edinburgh Festival, it has, like the playwright herself, fallen under the theatrical radar.
The setting is a grim Glasgow tenement in the 1930’s, inhabited (if that’s the right word) by John Harrison (Robert Cavanah) and his large family. Attempting, in difficult conditions, to keep the cogs of domesticity moving is Maggie Harrison (Sharon Small), John’s long-suffering, overworked wife. John’s on the dole, their youngest son Bertie has a hacking cough that turns into tuberculosis, and, to compound matters, her eldest son, Alec (Pierce Reid) and his monstrous wife Isa (Morven Christie) have moved in with them after their own jerry-built house literally falls down.
Nor does it end there. Also taking up space is John’s ailing mother (Anne Downie) as well as a grown-up daughter (Sara MacRae), who, unable to endure the conditions at home anymore, breaks her father’s heart by going off in search of something better.
The play is not nearly as depressing as it sounds. There’s even an adrenalin rush of hope towards the end that lifts the family out of its economic doldrums as they’re relocated to a council flat with – luxury of luxuries – hot running water!
Director Josie Rourke, taking full advantage of the vast resources at her disposal, brings a detailed eye to the comings and goings of the family (as well as their neighbours) and adroitly juggles the complex dynamics of their relationships with one other. She’s helped by a uniformly excellent cast whose clotted Glaswegian accents, it has to be said, take quite a bit of acclimatising.
Impressive too is Bunny Christie’s set, which, while focusing on the Harrison’s cramped living space, also allows us a peep, a la Hitchcock’s Rear Window, into several of the other flats in the crumbling building.
My one reservation is the music played between the scene changes. Instead of an authentic 30s soundtrack featuring popular songs of the period, we get a kind of bluesy threnody redolent of those moody black-and-white film adaptations of Tennessee Williams and William Inge in the 50s. It’s just wrong for this play.
All the same, the National Theatre is once again on top of its game.

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