No Nothing

Alan Spence is not the first to imagine a meeting between two famous people from different worlds, though there’s certainly a whiff of wishful thinking in this thoughtful, if a tad predictable bringing together of trade unionist Jimmy Reid – apparently the only “Communist” which moralistic commentator Malcolm Muggeridge would have trusted as Prime Minister – and the first Scottish National Poet, or Makar, of modern times, Edwin Morgan.

This lively two-hander gives great opportunities for both Steven Duffy as a black-suited, swaggering Reid, revisiting his Upper Clyde triumphs, and Kevin McMonagle as the more melodious Morgan, wryly opening up his some of poems to reveal the memories and emotions which helped inspire them.

Spence imagines the pair meeting in some timeless limbo, a way-station en route to an afterlife which neither particular believed in nor considered seriously when they died within a week of each other in August 2010. For reasons never entirely explained, both have been personified in their 1970s heyday, when Reid was gaining global attention thanks to his statesman-like leadership of the “work-in” on the Clyde Shipyards, while Morgan was making beginning to make some impact in cultural circles with his Glasgow Sonnets.

In both cases, Spence has plenty of source material to go on, and it’s clear from early on that he firmly believes that both men considered ideas – and “the right words” used to express them – as very important. Of course, Spence can’t resist playing with the idea that Reid might slightly resent having to be a man of the people on the front line of social and class struggle while Morgan sat safe and comfortable in his poetic ivory tower, but it soon becomes clear that both men understand the need for the other in terms of imagining – and subsequently creating – a different, better future.

This lively two-hander gives great opportunities for both Steven Duffy as a black-suited, swaggering Reid, revisiting his Upper Clyde triumphs, and Kevin McMonagle as the more melodious Morgan, wryly opening up his some of poems to reveal the memories and emotions which helped inspire them. Far more obviously, of course, it’s also an opportunity for Spence to look back over the last 50-odd years of Scottish and British history, and to show how even the staunchest socialist Reid – “I love Scotland, and the rest of the world – as a Scot.” – essentially made his own “journey to Yes” as he saw what happened to his country under “That Woman” and then – even worse – her successors in New Labour. “If she’s here,” says Morgan at one point of the famously shibbolethic Margaret Thatcher, “we know we’re in the wrong place.”

Dramatically speaking, a potential weakness of the piece is that there are no fundamental conflicts between the two men on stage; any differences are of degree, and more in terms of personal identity – Morgan being arguably scarred, of course, by the fact that homosexuality was illegal in Scotland for the first 60 years of his life. On the whole, however, this is a bright, invigorating celebration of two men whose intelligence, wit and principles are are grounded in a common humanity.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Two iconic Glasgow figures – poet Edwin Morgan and trade union leader Jimmy Reid – died within days of each other in 2010. They are astonished to wake up in a strange afterlife-anteroom where they engage in a flyting about life, the Universe and everything – from Glasgow to Infinity and beyond (with meditations on post-referendum Scotland).

Alan Spence is an award-winning poet and playwright, novelist and short story writer. He is Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen where he founded the WORD Festival which ran for 12 years. His many awards include the Mcvitie Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year, The People’s Prize and the Macallan Short Story Prize. His play On The Line (Dundee Rep) won a TMA Drama Award and his playscript Sailmaker is a set text in Scottish Schools. His most recent books are the novel Night Boat and the poetry collection Morning Glory.

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