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When We Were Women

Abigail Lawrie and Mark Edel-Hunt in When We Were Women at the Orange Tree Theatre. Photo: Ben Broomfield Abigail Lawrie and Mark Edel-Hunt in When We Were Women at the Orange Tree Theatre. Photo: Ben Broomfield

Sharman Macdonald burst onto the theatrical scene in the early 1980s with When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout, a vibrant, tragic-comic slice of Glaswegian life, which won her the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright. Watching this follow-up play (1988) makes you wish the Orange Tree had decided to revive her debut play instead.

When We Were Women is set in a Glasgow tenement during World War II and, like Macdonald’s first play, has an authentic feel of autobiography – not hers obviously, because she wasn’t born until the 1950s, but maybe her parents or grandparents.

Isla (Abigail Lawrie) is a free-spirited lassie in her late teens struggling to break free of her God-fearing, embittered mother (Lorraine Pilkington) and alcoholic father (Steve Nicolson). The joylessness of their marriage seems to have poisoned any pleasure they might have derived from their progeny.

When Isla becomes pregnant by Mackenzie, a dashing naval officer (Mark Edel-Hunt), her parents shift from a position of open hostility to one of unconditional acquiescence on the production of a wedding ring. “A woman must cleave to her man,” insists her mother, little knowing that her daughter’s husband-to-be harbours a very dark secret indeed.

Eleanor Rhode’s fluent production promises more than it delivers. Portentous music is simply not appropriate to the low level of drama here, and I found the constant repetition of certain words and phrases affected and irritating. However there are winning performances from Abigail Lawrie, making her professional stage debut as the beleaguered Isla, and Mark Edel-Hunt as the chancer Mackenzie.

Verdict
Low-key battle of the sexes in a wartime Glasgow tenement
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