The Pitiless Storm

For all its claims of being a one-man show, the stage can get pretty crowded during The Pitiless Storm.

There’s no denying that The Pitiless Storm is a powerful example of theatre that’s full of humour and spirit.

David Hayman plays Bob Cunningham, a life-long West of Scotland socialist, Union man and Unionist — “fighting a class war, not a nationalist one,” as he puts it — who, on the eve of being presented with the Order of the British Empire, faces an emotional crisis of belief and self-confidence which sees him ultimately complete what’s now referred to in pro-Scottish Independence circles as “the journey to Yes”.

Most of the play is set in the half-hour or so before Bob has to make a speech to a gathering of old friends and colleagues. As he goes through his prepared speech for the benefit of the sound technician, he is frequently distracted by memories of past successes and failures — not least him getting into a fight with some university students during a 1960s peace rally.

There’s more than just the techie’s voice in his ear: there’s that of his idealistic 17-year-old self, still keen to change the world and all too ready to point out the limits of the “slowly slowly catchy monkey” approach to social change. There’s his late father, Bob Cunningham Senior, who after a major stroke could only say the word “No” during the last 10 years of his life. And, most significantly of all, there’s his life-long love Ethel, who we gradually learn left him after he refused — on the principle of socialist solidarity — to join her on a peace march against a Labour Government. As he later points out, though, it was a Labour Government led by the man he now calls “Tony ‘Criminal Liar’ Blair”.

Bob is a man who has spent all his political life fighting Scottish Nationalists, or “Tartan Tories” as he calls them, so by background and upbringing he’s no friend of Independence. Yet as the minutes tick down to when he has to give his speech, the cracks in Bob’s self-esteem become all the more clear; hurtling towards his 60th birthday retirement, Bob often doesn’t even recognise his reflection any more, and had failed to see the slow progression of changes that have turned the world he knew – the one run from Westminster – upside down. Thus, he asks to simply be allowed to think again.

Given Hayman’s own similar “journey to Yes”, it is surely no surprise that he gives a blistering, heart-felt performance here, putting all his emotional weight behind Bob’s final wish to “take responsibility for who we were, who we are and who we want to be.” Whatever your own point of view on the impending referendum, however, there’s no denying that The Pitiless Storm is a powerful example of theatre that’s full of humour and spirit.

I do have one criticism, though. While announcing a post-show Q&A session is usually the signal for a mass stampede to the exits, it is somewhat bad manners not to give at least a few minutes’ pause between performance and discussion to allow those who want (or indeed need) to leave to do so.

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn


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The Blurb

The eve of Scotland’s referendum. A left-wing trade unionist endures a crisis of conscience as he is forced to question his political and moral beliefs in the face of a sea-change in his country’s political life. Loved and respected Bob Cunningham (David Hayman) has devoted his life to the party he loves but is forced by the voices of his past and his conscience to re-evaluate everything he holds dear. A widower with a dicky ticker and an estranged son, Cunningham makes a decision that may change his life and affect the future course of his country.

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