Men Should Weep

March 19, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Timely

Church Hill Theatre: Weds 16 – Sat 19 March 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Seemingly endlessly delayed by Covid, Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s production of Men Should Weep finally takes to the Church Hill stage. The end result is carefully observed and has considerable emotional power.

Ena Lamont Stewart’s 1947 play about the effects of grinding poverty in the 1930s East End of Glasgow focuses largely on the lives of women. It has steadily (and deservedly) become a modern Scottish classic, taking its place as a Higher set text.

Mandy Black, Jessica Howie, Ronnie Millar and Kai Bruce. Pic: Graham Bell

EPT should be congratulated for persistence in managing to eventually get this production to the stage after a two-year delay. Recent developments surrounding the cost of living mean that it is even more frighteningly relevant in 2022 than it would have been in 2020.

For it has to be said that this is not the easiest of plays to watch. There is certainly a vein of comedy running through the text which is handled with all of the aplomb you would expect from EPT. However, the story of Maggie Morrison, her husband John, their various children and neighbours is undoubtedly one of struggle.

small elements of hope

By the end, we are grateful that this is the revised version of the play, with its small elements of hope, rather than the even bleaker original. Director Anne Mackenzie has constructed a production that is full of pathos, and empathy for the characters. Towards the end of the near-three-hour running time it does sag a little, but on the whole it is extremely impressive.

Holding it together is Mandy Black as Maggie. This is a beautifully rounded characterisation, with the small expressions of joy given as much weight as the longer, more downtrodden periods.

Kiera Bell, Becca King, David Roach and Ruth Finlay. Pic: Graham Bell

Ruth Finlay, as Maggie’s unmarried sister Lily, is another extremely interesting performance. The character can often come across as preachy and self-serving, but here she is given considerable warmth and believability, with her fierce protectiveness of Maggie at times threatening to make her the play’s moral centre.

There are several characters that have proved very difficult for non-professional performers in the past that are discharged admirably here. John Morrison’s sense of traditional masculinity can make him unsympathetic, but Ronnie Millar gives him a quiet, almost desperate dignity that is hugely effective.

genuine spark

The relationship between Alec, the Morrisons’ self-obsessed eldest son, and Isa, his wayward wife, is also notoriously difficult to depict. David Roach and Becca King give the characters a genuine spark, even if their climactic confrontation proves as tricky to stage as always.

Kiera Bell plays the Morrisons’ daughter Jenny affectingly. Her conflicting impulses to undermine her parents while simultaneously craving their approval are shown cleverly in the heartbreaking final scene.

Kiera Bell, Ruth Finlay, Mandy Black and Ronnie Millar. Pic: Graham Bell

Lynn Cameron gives the more one-dimensional role of John’s sister-in-law Lizzie enough prickly, wounded pride to convince.

Much of the comedy is provided by Lyzzie Dell, in the figure of Granny and placed in a prominent position onstage, who displays wonderful comic timing. Mags Swan, Irene Beaver and Elizabeth Douglas, meanwhile, give the assorted inhabitants of the tenement stair real humour yet always hinting at the darker side of their lives.

The younger Morrison children are either represented by offstage voices, or more visibly by Jessica Howie and Kai Bruce, who play their roles with rare maturity, and are cleverly used during scene breaks.

While there is undoubtedly the odd glitch with the sound effects, the technical side of the production is impressive. The attention to detail in the costumes and props is as commendable as ever.

The pace verges on the glacial at times, but it does have the effect of maximising the emotion on display. This could never be said to be a comforting production, but it is certainly a commendable one.

Running time: Two hours and 55 minutes (including a 15 minute and a 5 minute interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Rd, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 16 – Saturday 19 March 2022
Wed- Fri 7.30 pm; Sat 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Lyzzie Dell, Mags Swan, Elizabeth Douglas, Ruth Finlay, Lynn Cameron, David Roach and Kiera Bell. Pic: Graham Bell

ENDS

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