Denise Mina on Mrs Puntila: 'We want people to leave feeling uplifted and angry and motivated to stand up for each other'
- Lorna Irvine
- 20 February 2020
Scottish crime writer and playwright talks Brecht, gender swaps and working with Elaine C Smith
One of Scotland's best loved crime writers, Denise Mina is not one for taking predictable routes in her work. Her piece for A Play, A Pie, And A Pint, Ida Tamson, had her teaming up with comedic actor Elaine C Smith, a fruitful collaboration focusing on gangsters and the impact on their families.
Now they are reunited for Mina's unique spin on the Bertolt Brecht adaptation Mr Puntila and His Man Matti. A lifelong admirer of Brecht since she was stage manager at the tender age of 15 on a production of Caucasian Chalk Circle at Bromley Little Theatre, Mina aims to repurpose this particular play for a whole new audience.
For Mina, the gender swap to Mrs Puntila And Her Man Matti is necessary. 'Gender blindness is quite the trend in theatre at the moment, and I love it,' she says, 'but the gender swap is fundamental to updating this play. The politics in it and the story are so pertinent now because it's all about power and income differentials, about who owns the land and workers' rights, but the gender politics in the original are super-funky and very uncomfortable. The gender swap means that the play is a bit more Harvey Keitel and a bit less Harvey Weinstein.'
She is equally enthusiastic when it comes to working with Smith again, too. 'She brings Christmas to the production! She's such a great performer, it's very hard not to watch her on stage all the time, even if she's standing at the side. She also invites an audience who might be wary of Brecht, because he's not always done to be funny and entertaining but with Elaine, they know they'll enjoy it. I think she's hugely under-appreciated as an actor, because she seems so familiar.'
As Ida Tamson proved, Mina's work also has a lot of wit along with the dark stuff too. Mrs Puntila continues this theme. 'We have easy laughs; uneasy laughs, niche, mainstream, cheap, expensive, the whole shebang of laughs!' Mina says.
This being Brecht, there are of course, political barbs with every humorous line. Murat Daltaban who previously directed Ionesco's satire Rhinoceros at the Lyceum returns to direct this.
'We want it to be really, really funny.' Mina adds. 'We want people to leave feeling uplifted and angry and motivated to take no shit, and stand up for each other. In the original, Brecht says, "never accept your rights as charity", and that's pretty much the theme of it. We want riots!'
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 28 Feb–Sat 21 Mar, Tramway, Glasgow, Wed 25 Mar–Sat 11 Apr.