Damned Rebel Bitches

Historically speaking, the original “Damned Rebel Bitches” were—according to the “butcher” Duke of Cumberland—the Jacobite women who marched behind their men in order to prevent them retreating. In Sandy Thomson’s inventively staged, full-to-bursting new work, the term is instead linked to sisters Ella and Irene—now in their 80s but recently arrived in America in order to find and rescue Ella’s missing grandson Cameron, from the clutches of “Super Storm Sandy”.

There’s much to praise here, but this is a near-two-and-a-half hour-plus show which feels longer, and doesn’t need to be.

At first glance Natasha Jenkins’ set is cluttered; early on, it’s even used to represent a life-time of possessions abandoned in Ella’s attic. As the show progresses, though, the cast inventively use the various props to help explain the sisters’ life, from being orphaned during the Clydeside Blitz of 1941 to being threatened by an armed mugger in New York. An order of sorts rises out from the seeming chaos, just as their story also emerges from the sometimes obtuse leaping back and forth along their busy lives, Ella’s age the constant statement at the head of each scene.

To add to the fun, Ella—“Over 80 and still the bullied wee sister!”—is played by a veteran actress, the wonderfully energetic Tina Gray, while the role of older sister Irene is given to the considerably younger Eilidh McGormick. Both are brilliant in their respective roles—Gray particularly as the ever-so-young Ella—though this “age-blind” casting does feel a tad heavy-handed on occasion. The ensemble is completed by Jeremiah Reynolds—primarily as Ella’s grandson Cameron—and Geoffrey Pounsett as Ella’s Canadian husband Pete; they inhabit their numerous supporting roles with real confidence, energy and clarity.

But they do have to work at it; this is a play undermined by Thomson’s well-meaning authorial determination to rip up every stage cliché about older women—“Every generation thinks they invented sex”—which sadly doesn’t benefit from the fresh, editorial perspective that a different director might have brought. There’s much to praise here, but this is a near-two-and-a-half hour-plus show which feels longer, and doesn’t need to be. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Royal Lyceum Theatre

Mrs Puntila And Her Man Matti

★★
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★★★
Traverse Theatre

Pride Plays

★★★★
Multiple Venues

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★★★★
Oran Mor / Traverse Theatre

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★★★★
Platform / Traverse Theatre

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★★★★

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Performances

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The Blurb

“The best thing about getting old is that everyone who can tell you off has died.” From Clydeside Blitz to storm-hit NYC, Ella and Irene encounter allies, enemies and fools who think little old ladies aren’t dangerous. Part of the Luminate festival.

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