Men Should Weep: Scotland in London

Posted on January 14th, 2011 by

By our third night in London, we were finally beginning to feel more comfortable with our surroundings. We were able to successfully navigate the new currency system, easily get from our flats to the underground or the grocery store, and smugly swipe our underground tube entrance cards without portraying the baffled and embarrassed look of the obvious tourists unable to get through the gate. We were settling in and feeling ready to deal with greater challenges. It was fitting, then, that on this night we saw a show that was a strong contrast to the previous night’s children’s musical, Oliver!—Ena Lamont Stewart’s Depression era dark comedy, Men Should Weep, challenging for both its heavy content and, more personally for us, the thick Scottish accents of the actors. This show was at England’s famous National Theatre, located in South Bank along the river Thames in the heart of London. The National Theatre, one of the most prominent in England, is renowned for well-received shows and productions. Following suit, Men Should Weep has been very critically acclaimed; it has been called superb, remarkable, and brilliant, and has received many 4 star ratings.

As I said, right from the start, this show was a greater challenge to us than other encounters in London had been because all the actors spoke with heavy Scottish accents, as the play was set in Scotland. In the Scottish dialect, vowel pronunciations especially are significantly different than in England or America. Yet as the show went on, we got more used to the dialect and the storyline was made very clear by the terrific acting, making the dialogue easier to understand.

 Written in 1947, this play is set in Glasgow, Scotland during the Great Depression. It follows the story of the Morrison family, a large, impoverished family trying to make ends meet and deal with the difficulties and changes life has given them, including an estranged daughter, a battle with Tuberculosis, an unhappy marriage between the eldest son and his sexually restless wife, and, perhaps most brooding, the lack of income from the father of the family, John. This play was staged beautifully with one of the most gloriously detailed sets I have ever seen. The set was comprised of a large doll house-like cutout of a tenement building where the audience could see into multiple levels, more than one apartment on each level, and the functioning hallway staircases. It was intricately detailed, with laundry hanging that could be raised and lowered as scenes went on, running water, and lit fires in stoves.

With the cast largely made up of women, this show focused strongly on women’s perspectives on the many problems the Morrison family faced. While living in poverty, Maggie, the mother, constantly sacrificed her needs and desires for her seven children and husband, John, and allowed John to ultimately be in charge of the family. Maggie’s sister, Lily, felt as though Maggie was settling for poverty, and didn’t expect enough out of John. Jenny, the oldest daughter, simply resented her upbringing and the poverty and blamed her family for not having a greater income or giving her more opportunities in life. Each woman, although unhappy about the situations the family faced, was unable to change anything drastically until, at the end of the play, three of them joined together and opposed John to fight for what they wanted: a new home for the Morrison family.  When the women banded together and finally were able to take control over John, they made him weep with remorse and shame. This was crucial to the family’s change, because prior to that defining moment, John was the sole power of the family and, although there were of course extenuating circumstances, as the breadwinner, he ultimately kept them in poverty as the Depression went on. By taking this stand together against John, the women were able to negotiate a bit of power in a clearly male-dominated society.

This show was a striking look at love in an impoverished family and the roles of women in the poor, Scottish identity. Life wasn’t easy for the Morrison family, but they carried on with laughter and strength, largely because of Maggie’s sacrifices and spirit. This show, although dark and very heavy at times, was overall quite uplifting in the love the family shared. It was a very appealing show to many audiences; ours consisted of mainly an older crowed, who perhaps connected with the themes better than those who hadn’t experienced the era or similar times, yet there were groups younger than ours watching and appreciating the timeless themes of family love and struggle along with them. In our group, there were mixed reactions to the show, but I personally thought it was a wonderful production. Although it had a happy ending, not every problem was solved by the end of the play, making it believable enough for me. It was a entertaining, yet substantial show that I would see again.

 


2 Comments

  1. LInda Benge says:

    Nice blog/review- I wish I could see this show too. thank you for letting me live vicariously through you….

  2. Rebecca Radcliffe says:

    Thank you, Lydia, for allowing us to travel along with your beginning adventures in London. Your description of how awkward it feels to enter a new culture brought back many memories, and your rich description of the set for MEN SHOULD WEEP made me wish I could be in the audience, too. Happy trails, Rebecca Radcliffe