To describe Sue Glover’s ‘Bondagers’ as a classic of contemporary Scottish theatre is but to do it justice.
Professor Jan Macdonald of Glasgow once described the search for Scottish plays of significance as ‘haggis hunting’ then along came writers of Glover’s calibre to prove her wrong. However much may have occurred since then, ‘Bondagers’ continues to shine, especially in this production under the direction of Lu Kemp.
‘Bondagers’ opens with its female cast reciting a litany of the farms on which they hope to work, choices that represent no choice, and Kemp’s vision continually reminds us of the unremitting round that was agricultural work until recent times.
Bondagers were the female labour indentured to male farm workers for the ‘term’ of the agricultural year, frequently forced to ‘flit’ at its end, another trial Glover’s text reminds us of.
The cast take every opportunity to make the most and best use of Glover’s luxuriant Scots, creating duets, trios and solos of almost operatic quality from her text, while the production benefits greatly from both Simon Wilkinson’s painterly abilities as a lighting designer and, it ought to be noted, our opportunity to genuinely smell the hay – this reviewer overheard some of the conversation of one of the technical team seated behind him on the challenges of achieving this.
As ever, what really matters is the cast and what they bring, and both we and Kemp are fortunate that Pauline Lockhart, Wendy Seager and Nora Wardell all possess capacities in characterisation that give authority and authenticity to their roles. Cath Whitfield’s Tottie, both natural and ‘natural’ is a genuine force of nature, abused and ultimately restrained but never truly defeated, while Jayd Johnson’s Liza and Charlene Boyd’s Jenny bring out both the light and strength of their characters.
Strength they all need when Tottie, having foreseen the end of agricultural work as it has been is finally incarcerated, while Ellen, the bondager made good as farmer’s wife discovers the farm’s lease has not been renewed and she will be flitting along with the bondagers, but as darkness in different forms encircles them, Glover allows us to glimpse the hope and fragile pride of survivors.
If you can, see this remarkable play in this very fine production, or away and hunt a haggis.
Runs til 15 November, 7.30pm (Wed & Sat mat 2.30pm)