Cranhill Carmen (4 stars)

Cranhill Carmen

credit: Leslie Black

Bold, bawdy take on Bizet's celebrated opera

One of Scotland's leading actors, Benny Young has an impressive fifty-year career on stage, but he's no slouch in the playwright department either. His dizzying spin on Bizet's classic opera, directed with flair by Liz Carruthers, takes a swift stiletto kick to the casual misogyny of the original, and does it all in broad Glaswegian, too.

This Carmen, played with soul and sass by Charlene Boyd, is first discovered urinating on the street by young Highland policeman Donald John (a subtle Ewan Petrie) after an extended brawl and drinking session. But this young man, seemingly so pious and gauche (not unlike Edward Woodward's Sgt. Howie in The Wicker Man) wants to seduce, then control the liberated woman, who drunkenly muses that 'Glesga is a bawhair awa' fae the bad fire'.

A second suitor appears in the unlikely form of Glesga Millio (Jason Harvey, uproarious) whose patter is as dubious as his recently acquired matador costume. He may be a predatory match for Carmen, with his wideboy posturing, but she's nobody's prize, and after some gloriously performed sweary arias, a moving monologue reveals that her lapsed Catholicism and burgeoning independence aren't necessarily mutually exclusive bedfellows.

How wonderful to see a working-class woman with intelligence, passion and her own agency. Cranhill Carmen may be set in the 1950s, but her story could be set in any time, any street in any city. With superb wordplay and heart, it speaks to the struggle of women to sing their own songs, in their own unique ways.

Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, Tue 26–Sat 30 Nov.

A Play, A Pie & A Pint: Cranhill Carmen

Glasgow. Mid 1950s. The story of Carmen McGurn, a tobacco factory worker. She meets two men late at night on her way home from a bender - a young idealistic policeman from the Islands and a Glasgow matador. Who will she choose and who will destroy her?

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