Hector MacMillan’s 40-year-old play The Sash remains relevant
Scottish revival of MacMillan's play reminds us that sectarianism remains a depressingly current issue
This revival of Hector MacMillan’s 40-year-old play feels bittersweet. While most playwrights might revel in the enduring appeal of their work, MacMillan has recently commented that he’d be happier if the sectarianism portrayed in The Sash was no longer relevant. But while the staunch intolerance of men like Bill McWilliam might not be as commonplace in Scotland today as it once was, it’s still a depressing reality.
Despite its modern parallels, this production by Scottish theatre company Rapture has wisely resisted transposing the plot to the modern day. It’s a tense morning in the McWilliam household on 12 July 1973, as Bill gets ready for the annual Orange Order march in Glasgow but his son Cameron, who’s begun to question his allegiances after the death of his mother, refuses to join him. Bill’s loud singing disturbs his neighbour Bridget, an Irish Catholic, and her pregnant niece, and they angrily confront each other while Orange bands play on the streets below.
In Des Dillon’s more recent play about sectarianism, Singin’ I’m No a Billy He’s a Tim, football takes centre stage. But Rangers and Celtic are scarcely mentioned in MacMillan’s play, which is defined by its social divisions – father against son, men against women – as much as its religious ones. Lyn McAndrew’s set vividly recreates the faded browns and oranges of a 1970s living room, and the cast have great chemistry, though we don’t quite see enough of Jane McCarry’s Bridget.
But despite its enduring relevance, The Sash shows its age, particularly in its comedy. It still elicits laughs but the jokes often feel dated, even when they’re not trying to hammer home the prejudices of its characters. Still, director Michael Emans is right to dust off the play for this Scottish tour and make us question how far society has really come since Bill McWilliam’s day.
King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 21–Sat 25 May, then touring