When the Moon Was Overhead

Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow, Sun 24 Sep


Writing to commission can be tricky. But when Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery announced an open competition for a dramatic monologue based around the life of Frances Macdonald McNair to accompany the Doves and Dreams exhibition, I was sufficiently intrigued by the work and tragic life of the artist to compose a shopping list-length proposal. Macdonald was a member of the famous ‘Glasgow Four’ group of artists of the 1890s, which also comprised her husband, J Herbert McNair, her sister Margaret Macdonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. At the turn of the century, the McNairs relocated to Liverpool, basing themselves at the School of Architecture and Applied Art.

The commission’s mentor, Liz Lochhead, advised me to focus on one or two episodes in Frances’ life for the one-act piece. But the writing only caught fire after I’d seen the series of moving, hauntingly beautiful watercolours Frances produced in the 1910s, late in her life, at a time when she was living in a small tenement flat in Glasgow and estranged from her husband. In the hands of director Liam Hurley, the piece provides a vivid taster for the exhibition, actress Kirstin Coulter-Smith beautifully depicting Frances’ despair and brittle determination as she questions her future and reflects on her life and work.

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