enjoyed a relatively carefree childhood and colourful teenage youth during the
1970s, I’m often still annoyed by the apparent cultural consensus
which dismisses those years as “the decade that taste forgot”.
That’s perhaps why, from the start, Douglas Maxwell’s
deliberately crude West Coast of Scotland re-imagining of Roberto Cossa’s
Not that there isn’t much to praise: this is a rare opportunity to see many of Scotland’s finest comedy actors together.
Not that there isn’t much to praise: this is a rare opportunity to see many of Scotland’s finest comedy actors together. Significantly, each is rewarded with at least one opportunity to shine on stage: Barbara Rafferty excels as gentile Aunt Angela, not least when she’s in a drug-induced frenzy, while Brian Pettifer revels in his belated appearance as decrepit, octogenarian lothario Donnie Francisco. Jonathan Watson, as the stressed-out patriarch Cammy, initially appears to be the calm centre around whom everyone else revolves, but he soon reveals too much of his inner self-loathing during soliloquies imagining conversations with HRH The Queen.
And, of course, there’s Gregor Fisher as the titular Granny, an unrelentingly repulsive figure who doesn’t say much but remains the focus of attention whenever on stage. This flat-footed devourer of stew, hidden cakes, fresh rolls and packets of crisps is the gnawing black hole at the heart of an increasingly deluded and dysfunctional family.
Maxwell has a great ear for Scottish patter, and gives the cast some cracking one-liners, but there’s just not enough going on to distract from the fundamental implausibility of the situation. Yes, the play’s main theme,of how poverty can debase the ties of family, is neatly encapsulated in a conclusion that’s more dark than comic, but the whole production nevertheless feels somewhat dated.
Not because it’s set in 1977: Maxwell and the cast have some fun riffing on “future” developments that are in the audience’s own past – “Chips ’n’Cheese!”, for example, will never quite mean the same thing again. Unfortunately, Maxwell simply doesn’t go anywhere far enough to question the 1970s’ gender politics on display, leaving the excellent Maureen Beattie (as beleaguered wife and mother Marie) and stunning newcomer Louise McCarthy (as “dumb blonde” daughter Marissa) with little room for manoeuvre.
Graham McLaren’s direction is tight, and the whole production, from the Glam Rock pre-show music to the audience’s exit to the sound of the Sex Pistols – a welcome reminder that 70s popular music didn’t actually stop in 1975 – has a thematic unity expressed most obviously in Colin Richmond’s hideously tacky set and costumes. Yer Granny is unapologetically populist, and will give many a great night out at the theatre but, as farces go, its a somewhat lumbering beast which requires its cast too obviously to push things on to where they need to be in order to land the next punchline.