It must be a baker’s dozen years since Scottish author, playwright and performer Alan Bissett first introduced us to Moira Bell, his much-loved tribute to the hard-working, hard-playing, straight-talking working class women who surrounded him during his Falkirk upbringing. In this third – and apparently final – collection of monologues, we again find Moira ready to take on the world and its sister—and still sharing every moment with her best pal, Babs.
Moira’s back-to-the-wall willingness to take on all-comers is the constant powerhouse of Alan Bissett’s humour
The unseen, unheard Babs is, of course, ultimately just a theatrical device; someone for Moira to talk to instead of talking directly to the audience. Yet, on this occasion there’s an added frisson early on that this believably long-established relationship could be taken away from Moira, thanks to Covid-19 and Scottish Government instructions for everyone to stay at home. Of course, Moira’s back-to-the-wall willingness to take on all-comers is the constant powerhouse of Alan Bissett’s humour, but it’s clear he’s increasingly fascinated by the genuine subtleties of the woman now she’s 50 years old.
Part of the attraction of Moira as a character – if not as a real-life neighbour – has always been her varying degrees of self-awareness; here, on more than one occasion, she’s occasionally pulled up short by momentarily seeing herself as others do. If she pauses for thought, though, it doesn’t follow that she immediately changes her behaviour. She still sees little point in most of Scotland outside of Falkirk, but following more than a year in lockdown – and also a year “on the wagon” – she has certainly become more aware of the passage of time and everyone’s ultimate mortality.
As with the two previous shows, Bissett performs alone on stage as Moira with no attempt to drag it up like some Scottish answer to Mrs Brown’s Boys. Nevertheless, she is undeniably in the room, with Bissett’s performance honed and subtly guided once again by director Sacha Kyle. Story changes are indicated by no more than a brief dip of the lights, and a change of seat on stage. Yes, Bissett slips easily into other supporting characters – generally the poor men Moira runs into – but he never loses his focus, and is always in the moment with all the characters.
Much of Bissett’s work – especially his novels – is about Scottish, working class men, but Moira clearly offers him a different angle to talk about the world. Not least because, while she may not be the most knowledgeable woman in the world – there’s a great joke about the Carpenters which deserves its repeated usage – Moira’s smart, and occasionally profound: not least about how, one day, all the strangeness of lockdown will just be a faded memory.