In Time o’ Strife

Sep 10 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩ Raw power

Traverse Theatre Tues 9 – Sat 13 Sept 2014

Visceral and uncomfortable truths are laid bare in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of In Time O’ Strife. Despite the odd false step in the staging, this is an emotionally charged and thoroughly involving production.

The cast and band of In Time o' Strife. Photo: Andy Ross

The cast and band of In Time o’ Strife. Photo: Andy Ross

Joe Corrie’s play was originally a touring production by a Fife community drama company in the 1920s, raising money for miners’ welfare causes. In the years since, it has always been more discussed than produced. Indeed, apart from a revival by 7:84 in the 1980s, this story of the miners’ lockout following the 1926 General Strike has been singularly absent from the Scottish professional stage.

Director Graham McLaren has chosen to adapt the play, slimming down the cast, adding material from Corrie’s other dramas and poetic works and inserting music and dance. These elements, notably the energetically feral dancing of the cast under Imogen Knight’s choreography, add greatly to the spectacle. However, at times the additions threaten to drown the source material.

Despite dealing with huge political themes, the play is rooted in the domestic, showing how the pressure of a seven-month strike, and the near starvation it has brought, tears a community apart. Hannah Donaldson excels as Jenny, whose loyalties are split when her boyfriend Wull wants to break the strike in order to raise money for their new life in Canada.

utterly thrawn and recognisably Scottish heart

Jenny’s brother Bob, meanwhile, has become more radicalised and desperate as the strike progresses. Owen Whitelaw and James Robinson, as Wull and Bob respectively, both provide emotionally truthful performances as essentially good people driven by circumstances to very different, but perhaps equally ill-advised, actions.

John Kazek and Anita Vettesse, as Jenny’s parents Jock and Jean, are similarly complex and believable, with Jock’s contrary, allegiance-switching behaviour speaking of an utterly thrawn and recognisably Scottish heart, while Jean’s laconic steeliness is almost heartbreaking.

Tom McGovern as Tam Pettigrew manages the contrast between comic bafflement and tragic sorrow expertly, while Vicki Manderson combines perky outward optimism and deep underlying grief as his daughter Kate.

The raw emotion on show is enhanced by Lizzie Powell’s lighting, which switches from warm to stark at the flick of a switch. However, the intensity of the acting is not always maintained in the other aspects of the production.

The addition of music and dance places this squarely in the Scottish tradition of touring political plays with music, as pioneered by the likes of 7:84. McLaren’s set, expertly evoking many a small community hall, nods to this while also recalling the play’s origins.

However, the addition of so many extraneous elements risks over-egging the pudding. The poems interpolated into the text are delivered in a peculiar declamatory style, while those set to music are not always enhanced by a repetitive, lumpen indie-punk backing.

The addition of images and sounds from later miners’ strikes, furthermore, while of obvious relevance 30 years after the 1984 strike, merely hammers home what is already there in the original play. As a result, it tends to detract from the emotional truth of the acting rather than adding to it. Towards the end, there seems to be a danger of edging into self-parody.

It is a shame that this relatively unsubtle approach threatens to overwhelm the original play, which is far from being a propaganda piece. The characters are too rounded, too conflicted for this to be the case. Instead, the play is a searching, troubling and all-too-relevant exploration of people in an appalling situation, and probably should have been allowed to stand up for itself without all of the bells and whistles. Thanks to energetic and emotionally resonant performances all round, it mostly manages to do just that.

Running time 1 hour 40 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Tues 9 – Sat 13 September 2014
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets and booking details at:

The NTS’s Common Man Community Project running alongside the In Time o’ Strife tour will be staging a new piece of agit-prop theatre at 1.45pm in the Traverse Bar, before the matinee performance on Saturday 13 September.

In Time o’ Strife on tour 2014:
Tue 9 – Sat 13 Sept Edinburgh
0131 228 1404 Book online
Tue 16 – Wed 17 Sept Stranraer
Ryan Centre Theatre
01776 703535 Book online
Fri 19 – Sat 20 Sept Ayr
The Gaiety Theatre & Arts Centre
01292 288235 Book online
Tue 23 – Thurs 25 Sept Aberdeen
Beach Ballroom
01224 641122 Book online
Tue 30 Sept – Sat 4 Oct Oxford
01865 305305 Book online
Tue 7 – Fri 10 Oct Dundee
Dunde Rep
01382 223530 Book online
Tue 14 – Sat 18 Oct Glasgow
0141 429 0022 Book online
Thurs 23 – Sat 25 Oct Cardiff
Sherman Cymru
029 2064 6900 Book online


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