It’s fitting that, this Eastertide, a resurrection of sorts lies at the heart of this latest collaboration between Glasgow’s Òran Mór and Edinburgh’s Traverse theatre. Unlike the original, however, its consequences swing violently between the comic and the brutal, and seldom in a way that uses one to build on the other.
Like the overtly symbolic chicken stock bubbling away on the cooker, we quickly realise that Mary had finally reached boiling point after years of verbal and likely physical abuse.
Broth initially grabs the attention: a bloody-headed man slumped over a kitchen table, an old woman sitting next to him eating biscuits, while two younger women stand horrified by what they see. As their conversation stutters forward, it feels like some dark sitcom; grandmother Mary appears totally oblivious of her husband’s dead body, while stunned daughter Sheena and granddaughter Ally repeatedly fall back on their own laughter-inducing catchphrases – not least Sheena’s frequent assertions that she’s going to be sick.
Disappointingly, despite being a play predominantly featuring three women, Broth is all about the man dripping blood onto the tablecloth. The unexpectedly resurrected Jimmy, we discover, is a drunkard; worse, the self-declared hard man is – at best – “an old git who can’t hold his drink”. Like the overtly symbolic chicken stock bubbling away on the cooker, we quickly realise that Mary had finally reached boiling point after years of verbal and likely physical abuse. So when Jimmy staggered home from the pub, angrily demanding beans on toast rather than broth for lunch, she had finally lashed out at him, with the now blood-covered kettle in her hand.
Ron Donachie is undoubtedly a genuine powerhouse as Jimmy; a barely contained volcano of rage at the world and those around him. Ironically enough, he benefits from having the most character development of all the characters, as we see the initially defensive, bile-filled bully finally comes to recognise the consequences of his actions on those closest to him.
Kay Gallie as Mary successfully nails her passive one-liners – not forcing the voice of a world-weary woman, absent-mindedly wondering whether any other of the world’s religions could offer her a second (and presumably better) life. Molly Innes as Sheena, however, has little or no emotional room in which to move, stuck from the start in a shrill, repetitive hysteria. The same can be said for Kirsty MacKay, even though Ally technically has a rite of passage of sorts, as the young woman finally learns the whole truth about her grandfather. Yet, arguably, Vincent Friell as Jimmy’s mate Patch comes across as a more rounded character, the mate who’s well aware of Jimmy’s flaws, is clearly concerned about Mary’s safety, and yet isn’t willing to intervene directly.
Domestic abuse, and its life-long consequences, are not the most obvious subjects for a comedic drama, even one as decidedly dark a one as this, but that isn’t Broth’s main problem. Fine performances and clear direction by Andy McNamee simply don’t compensate for a script which doesn’t quite make you believe in what’s happening enough to actually care about the people it’s happening to.