Men Should Weep

  • Our critic's rating:
    Thursday, October 28, 2010
    Review by:
    Peter Brown

    Reading the title of this play almost sounds like an instruction. And I suspect many women would say there are plenty of good reasons why men should indeed shed more than a few tears for their actions and decisions, especially ones that affect women.

    'Men Should Weep' takes us back to the days of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and gives us a glimpse of the daily lives of the inhabitants of a Glasgow tenement.

    The focus is on the Morrison family which includes father, John Morrison, who is currently unemployed, mother Maggie, and numerous children who share two bedrooms not only with each other but also with their granny. The parents have to make up a bed each night in the kitchen because the flat is crammed to the rafters with people.

    The running of the household is left exclusively to Maggie, though she's aided in her labours by her sister and the neighbours who are constantly in and out. Husband John complains about the state of the house, but takes no responsibility for it claiming it is not his job. Without a regular income, the family exists on handouts such as a tin of baked beans donated by Maggie's sister, Lily. The family live on the edge, and the older children bring other issues such as the need for independence.

    The actors all speak with Scottish accents, but they seem to have opted for milder versions of what might be regarded as typical of Glasgow, if my memory of that accent is correct. That seems in order, given that English audiences need to understand what is being said. Even so, you may still find yourself straining to hang on to every word of the dialogue.

    There's a high standard of acting all-round from a sizeable cast. However, I thought the actors playing the central characters of John (Robert Cavanah) and Maggie (Sharon Small) were too young and not sufficiently physically affected by their harsh lives. A touch of make-up might have helped to show the wear and tear on the parental faces. There's good support, though, from Anne Downie as the dour Granny Morrison and Jayne McKenna as Maggie's prim, man-loathing sister, Lily.

    Director Josie Rourke and designer Bunny Christie have rightly taken the view that you can't really begin to describe the appalling living conditions in a Glasgow tenement of the 1930s without fully embracing realism. The result is an astonishingly brilliant set covering two floors of the tenement and the staircase which serves the building. While the main action takes place at the lower level, we see events in the upper storey as well as in adjacent rooms in flats on either side of the Morrison household.

    'Men Should Weep' is an important historical piece which gives us a moving insight into the way people lived during the Great Depression and the extreme hardships that had to be endured. It's a timely reminder – if any were needed – that the vagaries of the economic system can bring unendurable misery and drive families to breaking point. It's also an extremely well-observed piece of writing from author Ena Lamont Stewart who found fame with her play in the 1940's, but subsequently failed to get the encouragement or support to go on to further success. That's a great pity given the quality of her writing and powers of observation, and another reason why we all should weep.


    "Remarkable play...the acting is uniformly superb... a landmark play in British drama."
    Michael Billington for The Guardian

    "superb production...what might have been a depressing play actually becomes unexpectedly uplifting."
    Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph

    "This revival by Josie Rourke of Ena Lamont Stewart’s neglected classic is hugely welcome."
    Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

    "Fine revival."
    Sarah Hemming for The Financial Times

    "Wonderfully rich ."
    Paul Taylor for The Independent

    External links to full reviews from popular press
    Guardian - Telegraph - Independent -

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