Ena Lamont Stewart's only successful play was voted one of the 20th Century's 100 best plays by the National Theatre, whose revival couldn't have been more perfectly timed, coming as it does just as the Coalition has announced its Fuck The Poor budget cuts. Set in a 1930s Glasgow tenement, we follow a few months in the life of Maggie Morrison (an excellent Sharon Small) and the family crammed into a tiny couple of rooms: Husband John (Robert Cavanah,) usually unemployed; Granny (Anne Downie,) eldest daughter Jenny (Sarah MacRae,) keen to move out; eldest son Alec (Pierce Reid) who had moved out but when his own flat collapses he's back at home with wife Isa (Morven Christie,) a flapper who's got Alec in her thrall; and a number of younger children, one of whom has a nasty case of Period Drama Cough.
The reviews have painted the play as hard-going, and it's no picnic, but Lamont Stewart has actually thrown in enough witty lines to portray the hardships faced without making the play itself a harsdhip to watch. Bush Artistic Director Josie Rourke makes a confident debut at the National, and on Bunny Christie's set which evokes a packed building there's always something going on upstairs or to the side - the family can never avoid the neighbours, every sound made in one apartment carries to the others. As well as Small the play provides a lot of female actresses with memorable roles: Jayne McKenna provides strong support as Maggie's frosty sister, Thérèse Bradley makes a small part stand out as her money-grabbing, toothpick-chewing sister-in-law, while as a neighbour Karen Dunbar's extraordinary face and lopsided ginger perm seem to have been sculpted by Aardman Animations. Some of the play's themes have in the subsequent decades become cliches of kitchen-sink drama, but in this production the play retains its power, and despite a harsh subject matter is determined to find the love in a family facing daily hardships.
Men Should Weep by Ena Lamont Stewart is booking until the 9th of December at the National Theatre's Lyttelton.