Written by Rona Munro
Directed by Michael Duke
From Cumbernauld to the Lothians to the borough of Camden – Scottish playwright Rona Munro’s exceptional talents are spreading across the country as James IV has its world-premiere this week in Edinburgh at the Festival Theatre, with Mary set to open towards the end of October at Hampstead Theatre.
But first, taking us back to the town where Munro made a tremendous impact as a feminist and celebrated writer thirty years ago, her 1990 drama-comedy Bold Girls has its magnificent revival at the Laternhouse, Cumbernauld Theatre.
From the onset, the fuse is lit for our three principal leads. These titular Bold Girls go about their daily lives as best they can. A life always teetering on a precipice, where their men may be lost to the encompassing ethno-nationalist conflict, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, yet they still maintain a vice-like grip over their lives. And as the bombs and bullets fly on the outside, the warring continues behind the closed doors, as mother and daughter Nora and Cassie routinely clash whilst living together, as Cassie’s husband Joe is in prison on suspicion of terrorist activities. With no love lost between the pair, there’s one consistent go-between acting as a barrier between the hot-blooded family: Marie. A gentile, well-respected woman whose much-loved husband Michael was killed a few years earlier in a horrific punishment slaying.
But there’s something else fanning the flame, which sets this fuse on a quicker, more nihilistic course. The first presence we see onstage is none of the three women we follow through Munro’s writing, but instead, a young woman dressed in white, Deirdre, an amalgam of all the anguish left behind by broken families, played solidly by Katya Searle who maintains an uneasy presence even against the strongest of characters. Deirdre’s presence initially plays the role of a catalyst; a driving force which tightens the stresses surrounding these three women as she manipulates her way into Marie’s front room.
Nora, Cassie, and Marie have all been keeping something simmering underneath, Munro’s commentary of the patriarchal control and normalised violence the men in their lives have exerted is a central ripple through the production, and through the use of language and undiluted vividness of the truth, strengthens all these women – each in unique, though vital, way.
The resolve of Nora is recognisable in mothers up and down the land, Pauline Goldsmith an absolute presence of both earthen wit and motherly representation. Much of her dialogue consigns itself to bickering with Cassie or forging an aura of comfort (of sorts), but Goldsmith instils such a sense of presence that it’s impossible not to be drawn into the woman, the mother, who stands as a manifestation of those who felt the back of a man’s fist but still somehow found themselves with the eyes of judgement cast on them while holding a family together.
Planting their feet firmly amidst the roots of Munro’s script, Leigh Lothian embodies a disharmonious cauldron of emotions, judgements, and coping mechanics – and turns in a spectacularly visceral performance as Cassie. Brash, forward, and pushing for a life of their own, Cassie seeks a future away from the confines she’s placed within – and not a moment too soon before her husband, Joe is released from jail. Initially snarky and comedic-driven, the harrowing turns Lothian takes Cassie through enriches the character and reinforces Munro’s script, helming the more destructive revelations in the show’s latter half. The empathy Lothian garners from the audience is electric, relatable, as she describes the revulsion of her husband, the resulting silence as audiences focus on her performance is incredible.
And it’s such a distinctly different manner of performance from Julie Martis, a far more reserved, yet often still just as jovial in delivery, as Martis channels the more subdued character to run along the narrative thread of discovery just as the audience. Maria’s place may be central to the story, but she’s unfurling the secrets and awakening her sense of self-discovery at a similar rate to the audience, Martis a lynchpin of sorts, a pacifist struggling internally with the loss of her husband, a man with many secrets, some closer to home than she may suspect.
Despite their tenacity and delivery, performance elements are let down somewhat with Michael Duke’s direction – where character and storytelling excel, the physicality and transitional sequences seem loose in comparison to the rest of the show. The simplistic set dressing lends itself to production with a cannier sense of space, and where scenes within Maria’s house utilise the limited stage space well, others find an emptiness which cannot fill.
Thirty years on, the refusal to offer a sense of comfort and reassurance is a sternly successful decision from Munro. The Troubles may have ebbed, but the lingering resentments and damage pervade. And even for these Bold Girls, whose sterling resolve keeps them living long after their tumultuous stories may end. There’s little wonder to the celebration of Munro’s writing across the Scottish (and wider) theatrical scene and an equal cause of jubilation to see the production back in Cumbernauld at a strikingly fitting Lanternhouse.
A Jubilant Revival
Bold Girls runs at the Cumbernauld Theatre Lanterhouse until October 1st.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Greg Macvean