The Drawer Boy
Tron, Glasgow, until Sat 24 May
All of us live by personal myths; stories we tell ourselves about our own past actions that justify the present. It seems easy enough to uncover these in others, but much harder to identify our own subjective narratives about our characters and actions. In Michael Healey’s play, a semi-biographical account of an encounter between a young actor and two ageing farmers in rural Canada, these gentle self deceptions, occurring in greater or lesser degrees of overtness, are explored in three memorable characters.
It’s the early 1970s, and Miles (Brian Ferguson) is a member of a trendy theatre collective who winds up on the front porch of Morgan (Benny Young) and Angus (Brian Pettifer), two men whose last significant encounter with the world was the war and to whom the 60s simply hasn’t happened. The taciturn Morgan sets Miles to work on the farm in return for allowing the actor to observe agricultural life at first hand, thus to contribute to an improvised play. Meanwhile Angus, a man left with mental disability and no short-term memory, ostensibly the result of a war wound, draws close to the young newcomer. But is the semi-folk tale with romantic overtones that Morgan repeatedly tells him the real reason why these men exist as they do?
Andy Arnold’s debut as the Tron’s artistic director in front of Hazel Blue’s nicely observed ramshackle cabin set is a quiet triumph of psychological observation with a twist of warm humour before its crisis. There’s a touch of Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero in the cultural clash between city and country, while the tender care of Morgan for Angus through all their rural poverty creates an inevitable parallel with Of Mice and Men. The ideas under Healey’s play aren’t especially complex, but its central question about the value of self deception recurs ingeniously through a brilliantly structured text, all this brought out to advantage by three splendid performances. It seems invidious to pick out any one of the actors, though Young’s laconic farmer is truly splendid, pulling dry humour and deep reserves of emotion from his apparently stolid and undemonstrative character with real guile and subtlety. Recommended.