Douglas Maxwell’s ‘A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity’ offers a range of responses to that possibility.
It could have been less arrestingly, but perhaps more accurately have been titled ‘A Brief Look at the Language Question’, although it focuses equally on class and touches on issues of gender.
Jim Dick (Scott Fletcher) encounters Annabelle (Joanna Tope), the widow of his deceased boss, at the latter's funeral. An ill-chosen (possibly) expression leads to an hour of interrupted discussions of the power and place of profanity in the language and in our dealings with one another.
Maxwell’s tour of the strange noises produced in this part of the island is clearly integral to Jim’s education of Joanna in the finer points of Scots usage of Anglo Saxon vocabulary, but the play also suggest a slight nod toward Tom Murphy’s re-imagination of Faust - ‘The Gigli Concert’ and Willy Russell’s more light-handed treatment of this and other themes in ‘Educating Rita’.
‘A Respectable Widow’, however, takes its own clear sighted aim at our own linguistic prejudices and presumptions, and the desire to preserve and domesticate at the cost of arrested development. From Gavin Douglas on, writers and speakers of ‘Scottis Tounge’ have encountered home-grown (the term is used advisedly) prejudice, which is perhaps the real ‘Crisis of Scottish Confidence’.
If so, then Maxwell’s play is a volley of objections against any inferiorist tendencies, which nevertheless manages to keep a smile firmly on its face. The only problem with a play such as this, brimming with ideas, is that these become constricted in the time available and Maxwell’s broad canvas becomes covered in sketches rather than focused on one of them.
Both Fletcher and Love make the very most of their roles, developing them believably throughout, and Orla O’Laughlin’s direction takes us sure-footedly from Jim and Joanna’s opening encounter to the play’s end.