Citizens‚ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 3 Mar
There is something direct and compelling about a good play from another era, that cuts through our nostalgia, or simple desire to remake history in our own time’s image. In Roddy McMillan’s 1973 drama of Glasgow working class life, we meet a young man from an impoverished background who declares early on that his first day in a new job might be his last, for there may be other opportunities, even lifestyles, elsewhere. It’s a confident ambition that might not be uttered so readily by parallel characters in a contemporary play.
The job in question is that of a trainee skilled glassworker, and the labourers we meet in Jeremy Southgate’s grimy subterranean workshop might from the outset seem to be familiar working men from this decade of such dramatic characters. Yet, as we encounter young Norrie (William Ruane), his unsavoury, bullying nemesis The Rouger (Andrew Clark), his fatherly, craftsmanlike foreman (Paul Morrow) and the various other machos of this workplace, no act of sensational violence or depravity seems in the offing. Instead, playful joshing gives way to something more brutal and sinister very slowly, the denouement being quite psychologically plausible from this innocuous beginning.
Director Jeremy Raison shows great caginess in trusting the play’s stealthy pace to deliver. In doing so, it displays an era frozen in aspic, but its power lies not in some museum quality, nor in its parallels to our times. Instead a striking contrast is evinced, from middle aged workers whose joy and passion in their craft can become a dangerous addiction to a more indifferent and amoral younger generation whose nascent ambition bears only an oblique resemblance to the post-Thatcher world’s youth. There’s a strong ensemble cast on display here, with Morrow’s avuncular foreman quite striking (particularly given the short notice with which he took the role). A little cameo by Brian Pettifer as a kind of pitiful living shade of the workshop’s past is also admirable. It’s a production that rings with an authenticity that a whole series of Life on Mars won’t bring you.