Mrs Barbours Daughters

Mrs Barbour's Daughters centres around Mary, an elderly blind woman who refuses to move out of her tenement flat and into her niece's home. Throughout the play, she continually refuses to engage with the present, preferring instead to dwell on her past – an unsatisfactory life lived in the shadow of her political activist older sister. Constantly present in the minds of the characters is Mary Barbour, the Glaswegian hero particularly famous for her part in the rent strikes of 1915.

The play has characters quoting inspirational phrases from Mary Barbour, evocative use of song, and by the end it has what almost amounts to a call to arms.

At its heart, this is an issues play. Writer A J Taudevin has clear points she wants to make about the value of grassroots activism, and she marshals all her resources into doing this. The play has characters quoting inspirational phrases from Mary Barbour, evocative use of song, and by the end it has what almost amounts to a call to arms.

At the same time, Taudevin allows space for her central character to be fully realised. Mary is sympathetic, nasty, likeable and ugly by turns. Adeptly portrayed by Anna Hepburn, she turns what might otherwise have been a slightly dry play into a developed piece of theatre. The use of a saucepan and wooden spoon to illustrate the different facets of Mary's character is beautifully integrated and extremely effective.

Libby McArthur and Gail Watson (as Mary's niece and sister respectively) are wonderful. McArthur brings a stoical charm to Joan, and Watson portrays brittle endurance and full-blooded revolutionary spirit equally well. There is a sense, though, that the actors are doing a great deal with slightly limited material – Joan and Grace are less colourfully drawn than Mary.

Still, in an hour long play which deals with politics, the history of socialism in Glasgow, Mary Barbour, the current austerity crisis and the story of one particular family, something has to give. The end result is a very touching production which will leave you singing revolutionary songs from the 1930s as you walk out of the theatre into Austerity Britain.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

In 1915, Mrs Barbour led 20,000 women in the rent strikes with bundles of washing, bread flour, saucepans and wooden spoons. 100 years later and an 87 year old woman sits alone in her dank tenement in Govan, reminiscing on a lifetime of grievances, battling her memories and reaching for an idea of a time which put all of us first. This new play by up-and-coming, award-winning playwright AJ Taudevin (Some Other Mother, Chalk Farm) incorporates workers songs, charting a personal history of sisterhood, solidarity and betrayal interwoven in a social history of women's resistance in Glasgow.