ComedyDramaReviewScotland

Maggie & Me – The Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Review by Dominic Corr

Writers: Damian Barr and James Ley

Adapted from the Memoir of Damian Barr

Director: Suba Das

Smouldering brimstone, bleeding walls, hellish fractures in the earth, and Murray Mints: something is in the air as the Tron Theatre houses the revival of Scotland’s most persistent nightmare: a Tory.

But for the ease of jokes and snipes at the Iron Lady and their impact, experimentation and dismantling of Scotland’s infrastructure, Damian Barr’s heralded Maggie & Me is far from a reductive gloves-off bashing for the former Prime Minister. The National Theatre of Scotland’s long-awaited adaptation of Barr’s memoir, written with James Ley, finds plenty to laugh about but just as much pain and truth in a brutal and brazenly personal account of growing up gay in 1980s Scotland.

Re-framing the ‘how’ of creating his memoir, Maggie & Me, the stage adaptation follows Barr (DB) goings about dredging up his reminiscences of their life to craft the titular memoir, but their initial efforts run into an enormous snag. Throughout their life, there have been remarkably personal and intricate instances which have shaped DB’s life: from his parent’s divorce, homophobic and physical abuse, poverty, and the atrocious stain on history that was Section 28. And when bottled for too long, things erupt in creative ways – like trauma with shoulder pads.

Traversing their personal history, from bath nights with ‘snowy’ static televisions and fingers of fudge to the more harrowing decimation Conservative politics had on Scotland, DB traps themselves in a twisted wonderland of familiar, bold, and warped visuals. Carried with an engrossingly poignant performance of wit, humour, and genuine anguish from Gary Lamont as DB, while Sam Angell performs the younger Damian with an initial innocence and sparkling calibre of energy, sharing excellent chemistry with Lamont, and DB’s best friend Heather carried with a richness from Joanne Thomson.

But there was another vital woman in DB’s life. Margaret Thatcher was, for many, the only consistent presence throughout their early childhood for eleven years. Not even The Muppet Show made it that long. In an iron performance, the intonations and physicality of Beth Marshall are near necromancy in their holding of the infamous former Prime Minister. From their immediate presence to the chilling live cinematics where Tim Reid beams Marshall (and Nicola Jo Cully, playing DB’s mother with touching sincerity and grounded honesty) to the small television littering the set.

Striking, in many ways, is Kenneth MacLeod’s set shifts the landscape of DB’s experiences to bring a more fluid and impressive expanse to an already striking and effective stage. The serenity of Carfin Grotto, or the burned skies overlaying the Ravencraig Steelworks, speaks volumes to the memories DB and the audience share of Glasgow, more than words could communicate. And when lifted with Katharine Williams’ lighting, make Maggie & Me one of the most visually engaging productions of the year: something not initially thought of with its more ramshackle, nostalgia-strewn beginnings.

The men in DB’s life have, unsurprisingly, equal an impact and part within their story – Grant McIntrye excels in doubling, tripling, and more so as a variety of characters through the show – most prominently as Mark, the light of Barr’s life for a time. Douglas Rankine utilises their expressive performance to punctuate right to the heart of many in the room with the history and impact of the industrial closures of the area as Barr’s Dad. Versatile, their performance also slithers into the revolting dangers of the toxic masculinity which pervades when young people fail to have adequate access to information about their sexualities and bodies.

The intricacies of self-reverential writing are near-inescapable. While Maggie & Me, in many ways, forms its path from the original best-selling memoir, it cannot shake away the intensity of its roots that limit the otherwise fine and undaunted show. Scenes like musical interludes that, whilst offering a chipper pat-on-the-back of nostalgia and humour, extend the runtime and lower the impact of the more crucial elements. While every drop and letter of the memoir is personal and valid, in transition to the stage, a couple of pages could do with remaining within the bindings of the book to save time for the audience and allow a steadier flow.

Maggie & Me stimulates emotions of all calibre and creed. It induces conversations of the past, present, and future but reminds us that even within a cruel and starving world, there is always room for two things: love and stories. And in a world where politicians seek to ban Wilde or limit access to art, the survival of these stories is critical in a manner so beautiful, bamboozling, bonkers, but brazenly buries the blues away in a welcoming production that wears heart and pride on its sleeve.

Reviewed at the Tron Theatre and continues touring | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

The Reviews Hub Score

Bonkers and Brazen

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