In Time o' Strife, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
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National Theatre of Scotland
Joe Corrie (writer), Graham McLaren (adaptor and director), Michael John McCarthy (composer and musical director), Lizzie Powell (lighting design), Imogen Knight (choreographer)
Hannah Donaldson (Jenny), John Kazak (Jock), Vicki Manderson (Kate), Tom McGovern (Tam), James Robinson (Bob), Anita Vetesse (Jean), Owen Whitelaw (Wull Baxter)

Joe Corrie’s ‘In Time o Strife’ remains a powerful evocation of time and place, with echoes that resonate in our own days.

This National Theatre of Scotland production clearly aims to update Corrie’s powerful work and make it ‘relevant’ to new generations.

Whether it succeeds in this is a somewhat open question. ‘In Time o Strife’ originated as part of a fund and morale boosting exercise, receiving its first professional production in 1929. Its reflections on the 1926 General Strike as experienced by the folk of Corrie’s native Cardenden would still have been vivid in the minds of many of the audience.

Taking Corrie’s text as its starting point, Graham McLaren’s adaptation adds a folk-punk musical accompaniment, energetic dance and physical theatre element, and a number of Corrie’s poems, both recited and sung.

What suffers is what a theatre designer friend of this reviewer calls ‘the blethers’. Stuffed between outbursts of theatricality, the subtleties of Corrie’s arguments get lost in what sometimes feels like foot-stomping self-indulgence.

The attempts to ‘update’ the work with snatches of video footage from the days of the 1984 Miner’s Strike sit uneasily beside the actors references to the grim tail-end of the 1926 General Strike, and the attempts to shoe-horn the two sets of events into a single vision of class struggle are ultimately unconvincing.

It’s a huge pity, since Corrie’s characters speak for themselves, and even though the sensibilities of his age are in some respects no longer ours, he is too much an artist to simplify into propaganda. What’s compromised here is the play, and by extension, the players.

Corrie’s feminism remains, and in some scenes the cast are let loose with text and make it sing more loudly and proudly than any of the accompanying songs. If there’s light amidst the mirk, it’s surely here, and it’s a tribute to some fine ensemble playing that we get as much of Corrie’s real message that we do.

As innumerable productions of Shakespeare and Chekov attest, plays are constantly adapted to changing times, and, it must be said, the whims of directors, sometimes to their benefit and sometimes to their detriment. Sad to say, in this case, one feels the playwright has not been best served.

Til 13 Sept, 7.30pm (Sat 2.30pm)

Read Irene Brown's review of In Time o' Strife