Review: Between the Thinks Bubble and the Speech Balloon, Liz Lochhead, OranMor until 15th March
Written and directed by Liz Lochhead
Written by Liz Lochhead, Tom Leonard, William Letford, Grace Cleary and Henry Bell.
Actors: Nathan Byrne, Kirstin McLean, Sandy Nelson, Gabriel Quigley and Harry Ward
At A Play, A Pie and A Pint OranMor, Until 15th March, 2014.
Review Pat Byrne.
I must admit that I was completely open to enjoying this play. Firstly, I am a huge fan of Liz Lochhead, our Scottish Makar. Secondly, I am intrigued by Tom Leonard’s work and the debates it has triggered regarding the use of the Scots language and writing from within your own culture. This topic frequently comes up at the creative writing classes I go to at the University of Glasgow – and it’s often the subject of debate in the pub afterwards.
The play opens with Mark, a creative writing student, stressing about completing an exercise for his Monologue Module for Professor Pamela. His dilemma is that his tutor’s views on writing clash with his own ideas on creativity and his admiration for Tom Leonard’s straight talking vernacular.
Behind Mark a screen displays Leonard’s words:
. in the beginning was the word .
in thi beginning was thi wurd
in thi beginnin was thi wurd
in thi biginnin was thi wurd
in thi biginnin wuz thi wurd
n thi biginnin wuz thiwurd
nthi biginnin wuzthiwurd
. in the beginning was the sound .
Mark has tremendous admiration for Tom Leonard and dips into his poems as he sits at his desk striving to figure out what he wants to say in his own writing. In the play we also hear the stories of four random characters waiting at a bus stop. These are told through monologue, echoing the aims of Mark’s academic task. They are amusing, often hilarious, and the audience get it and roar with laughter. However, the play is not a comedy and the characters’ stories are full of pathos, with elements that are both tender and sad.
We meet an exuberant young man with learning difficulties, bravely coping with life on his own after his grandparents have died. Throughout the play the vernacular is used to great effect and the audience laugh with him as he repeatedly asks: “Whit am a like?”
The demise of his grandparent has left a big gap in his life and we get a sense of the role they played as he shares the advice they passed onto him: ‘A closed mooth catches nae midges.’ And. ‘Wir aw feart, it’s how you deal with it that counts.”
Rose, an older woman, shows her concern for the young man. Later she tells her story and we learn of her experiences working in a care home. I felt that this was a particularly strong part of the play. The reality and sadness of life in the nursing home and the vividness of Rose’s imagination are conveyed through wonderfully descriptive language. Her scorn for the inappropriateness of the courses the workers have to attend is easy to relate to. And the descriptions of ‘Reality Orientation’ and ‘Validation’ are hilarious but also very sad – clearly demonstrating how out of touch the bosses are with the lives of the residents in the home. Reminding us of the distance between Professor Pamela’s view of writing and voices rising from real experience.
Although it’s very funny, it’s also heartbreaking when Rose mocks the message of the Reality Orienttion course and how ‘Mary’s greetin can be heard in Saltcoats’ every time she’s told that her husband is dead. And the ludicrous message of the Validation Course, encouraging workers to endorse such beliefs as octogenarians requiring nappies for their weans.
Through monologues the audience is drawn into each character’s story; apart from the man with learning difficulties and the carer, we hear the story of a ‘torn-faced’ young woman whose confidence is shattered and heart broken when her boyfriend is unfaithful. Perhaps the most upsetting is the young man, who is tortured by indecision and relentless questioning of his actions, and really needs help in coping with a severe anxiety disorder.
The beauty of the play is that we, and Mark, enter into the lives of these characters and hear their thoughts through language that is rich, powerful and in voices that are very recognisable.
Resulting in Mark concluding: “I’ll write what I want.’
Pat Byrne, 12th March, 2014.
(Coincidentally just yesterday I uploaded the first of Allan Wilson and Peter McNally’s podcasts ‘Rotten English’. They are discussing the work of Tom Leonard: https://www.glasgowwestend.co.uk/category/writing/allanwilsonpodcast)
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