Theatre preview: Men Should Weep @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

That we can relate to a play written of the hardship of the 1930s depression doesn’t reflect very well on our society in the 21st century, does it? Yes, as many of us struggle on amid soaring energy prices and a bleak employment market, it’s an appropriate time for a theatre company to re-tell a story that takes place in a world of crippling urban poverty. But taking Men Should Weep on a tour of the country represents a gamble of sorts by the National Theatre of Scotland, because the piece has been hiding away for a generation.

Penned by Scottish female playwright Ena Lamont Stewart, this unflinching work was first performed in 1947 by the Glasgow Unity Theatre. After this company’s closure four years later, nothing became of the play, which gathered the dust of three decades in theatrical obscurity before its slightly cheerier re-write enjoyed a brief run in the early 1980s. However, it was not until 2005, when it was named as one of the National Theatre’s 100 Plays of the Century, that Men Should Weep achieved the broader acclaim it deserved.

Its heroine is Maggie, matriarch of the Morrison household, who live a hand-to-mouth existence in Glasgow’s Gorbals. Conflict between the characters is never far away, alluding to the gender and class dynamics that prevailed in the interwar years.

‘Men Should Weep is one of the very best plays ever to be written about the corrosive effects of poverty,’ said director Graham McLaren. ‘This is not a problem that has ever gone away.’

So, as the weather worsens and our budgets tighten with winter beckoning, this production won’t exactly remind us how lucky we have it today. However, it’s not the job of this theatre company to tell us stories that make us feel happy and comfortable. Its purpose is to challenge and provoke, and, in putting on this visceral, populist work, the National Theatre of Scotland is succeeding admirably.