For the Love of Willie Review
It was a chance handing of Agnes Owen’s 1998 novel, For the Love of Willie, to Phil Tong, director of the City of London Freemen's School that led to this loving adaption by this company of drama students for this their ninth Fringe appearance.
Balloch writer, Owen, tells the tragic story of Peggy, a young girl in 1940s Scotland who becomes infatuated with her married shopkeeper boss, Willie, who has a bit of a weakness for young girls. When Peggy becomes pregnant, she finds herself abandoned by him and at the mercy of her mother and society’s contemporary mores.
With a simple but effective set of two windows above carefully chosen props of two cot beds, two basket chairs and cabinets and to bleak cello music in the background, we are in the institution where Peggy now lives as old woman, sharing a dorm with her unfortunate neighbour, The Duchess, both in permanent flannelette nighties and slippers.
Peggy is writing to record her life and reads Camus while The Duchess deludes herself with Mills and Boon fantasy romances. Peggy’s younger life unfolds before them as the old women lie in their cots.
It is no mean feat for an English company to take on a Scottish text and bring it to the Capital’s Festival Fringe. This group of young actors have taken on the challenge of learning a middle-of-the-road Scots accent to a pretty good standard over all.
Two of the male actors, Alex Duke and Oliver West, played quite small parts as the Doctor and prospective adoptive parent respectively, sounded particularly convincing. I would also like to mention Kat Daly who had a small part as Daisy but had a big presence on stage.
The costumes chosen for the play were immaculate with great attention having been paid to detail. Some of the shoes were nothing short of exquisite! However, the wee glitch of Peggy’s Mother having no wedding ring was a detail missed in this otherwise sartorially convincing production. The rehearsal images given do not do justice to this finely turned out cast.
This play had not quite a cast of thousands, but in the small venue the cast of 21 felt like they could have been in danger of out-numbering a Fringe audience, although the show was almost sold out on their last day. It also felt in need of editing, as some of the audience’s body language indicated, and ran over the stated 75 minutes.
The play has a strong text peppered with black humour that tells Peggy’s bleak and harsh story of unremitting gloom where over and above the horror of how young single mothers were treated not so long ago, we have the deaths of the men in Peggy’s family in a mine disaster and an air raid.
Top marks to this ambitious company for highlighting Owens’ work that according to Scottish writer, artist and friend of Agnes Owen, Alasdair Gray, she is the “most unfairly neglected of all living Scottish authors”. Some of Agnes Owen’s family attended this last performance and must have been pleased to see this respectful adaptation of their relative’s work.