The first preview of Men Should Weep at the National tonight. A fascinating play written by Ena Lamont Stewart in 1947 but set in the Glasgow tenements of the 1930s. The play tells the claustropobic story of three generations of the Morrison family as they fight to hold body, soul and dignity together in the face of wretched poverty and the unrelenting interference of their neighbours.
What struck me most about the play is how contemporary it felt, how authentically drawn the charaters seemed to be and how sympathetic it was to the struggles and dilemmas of the working class and yet it pre-dates the acknowledged watershed of social realistic playwriting - Look Back in Anger - by nine years. The original production was well reviewed by the time it transferred from the Unity Theatre in Glasgow to London - but it subsequently disappeared off the radar for thirty five years, by which time the angry young men had revolutionised the Royal Court and Joan Littlewood had redefined the notion of populist theatre making at Stratford East. Both movements, in different ways may owe a debt to Men Should Weep.
The new production is beautifully designed, the forth wall of a tenement block removed enabling us to see the cramped conditions and suggest the numerous lives witihn the building, and intelligently played by a strong ensemble.
Beyond it being a good night out this timely revival may also offer us a chance to reassess the London centric narrative of theatre writing in the middle of the last century and give some credit to the regional work that captured the spirit, cadance and rhythm of communities long before Jimmy Porter picked up the Sunday Papers.