Ida Tamson by Denise Mina - a review by Pat Byrne

Glasgow West End Lunchtime Theatre sponsored by Orange.

Part of the Spring 2006 Season of a Play, a Pie and a Pint

What a play - great story, clever script and smashing acting. In the title role Elaine C. Smith gave a fine performance as a woman with a past - and present. Ex-wife of Glasgow gangster Hogg, her life is focused on rearing her daughter's two sons, Hasim and Johnny, as their mother, who was a drug addict, is dead.

The story unfurls through Ida's contact with Janine, an ambitious young journalist, played by Clare Waugh, when Ida is having 'her say' in the magazine 'Take a Break'. Janine is looking for her break and sees herself working on The Guardian rather than the tawdry magazine.

The dialogue between the two women is tense, emotional and humourous. Ida is a careworn working class women. She is uneducated and rough but has a lot of pride and well honed street smart skills and a very strong survival instinct. She is also an unconscious comedian, an aspect of her character shown to perfection by Elaine C. Smith, the audience shriek with laughter when Ida tells Janine, who sports a beautiful golden glow, that she could buy St Tropez fake tan at Paddy's for 'a pound a gallon'.

The two women come from quite different worlds, however, Ida's story draws them together. Initially Janine is interested in learning about how Ida's daughter was found dead with her young child beside her. As things progress we find out that the dead women was not Ida's daughter and when Ida learns this she goes off in an attempt to trace her. This brings her into contact with the underworld and a character called The Flesher.

The Flesher is played by John Morrison, flashy and hard, he has taken over the position of top dog in gangland from Ida's ex husband. He portrays the character well and Mina cleverly inroduces some ridicule through the dialogue - when he is being aggressive towards Ida "look at me when ah'm threatnin' ye". Ida stands up to him, although you can sense her fear and manages to find out that her daughter had been living with him but that she had fled. He tells her that her daughter is now dead and also that he is Johnny's father and he intends taking Ida's grandson to Spain.

The Flesher wants to get back at Hogg, who has forced him to get out of the country, but he is also a racist and furious that Hasim and Johnny are brothers. He exclaims that he does not want 'a Paki looking after ma wean'.

Ida is, of course, distraught, however, in the next scene we see her back with Janine, who is after another story and we learn immediately that Ida still has her two grandsons. We wonder what happened to The Flesher's plan to take Johnny from her?

Janine has moved on from 'Take a Break' but still looking to make that leap to The Guardian. Some of Mina's dialogue is exquisitely funny and when Ida describes The Guardian as 'like being shouted at by a Social Worker' the audience errupts with laughter.

Although she now has some trust in Janine as she showed Ida's side of the story in the first article, which gained Ida some respect within her community, Ida has something to hide. Nonetheless, a bond has grown between the two. The journalist is also less sleek than before and a bit frazzled now that she has a baby and is experiencing some sleepless nights.

However, she is still after that big story and wants to know about Ida's background but Ida has a big secret and communicates in an obtuse way. Talking again about fake tan and about how important it is to know people's weaknesses and The Flesher is a racist. Janine, suddenly smiles as she guesses at what Ida has done. When The Flesher came for Johnny, he thought that he had Asian blood and did not want him. Ida had applied the 'St Tropez a pound a gallon at Paddy's'. Not only did this plan work but the play ends with another feel good factor as Ida saw her daughter again; looking from The Flesher's car - she had a smile on her face. Although this was the last time Ida saw her daughter she was content that her daughter understood what Ida had done and respected her for it.

I don't know quite how Denise Mina managed to condense this intricate story into a short play covering a wide array of human emotion, frailty, ambition, cruelty, despair and laugher. Elaine C Sith did a great job and Jess Fitzgerald sums it up perfectly when she describes her as 'just a perfect mixture of Glasgow gallus, pride and dignity...very funny but never patronising to her character'.

Pat Byrne,
April, 2006.

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