It is over 20 years since I first saw Frank McConnell and Michael Marra perform A Wee Home from Home as part of its nationwide tour with Communicado. It is one of these experiences that impacts and stays with you. Seeing it again is rather like re reading a book after some time, each chapter is both familiar and fresh at once as new discoveries are made. I have to say that despite the passage of time, the two performers look exactly the same!
This dance play shows Frankie returning to his hame toon of Glasgow, eyes shining with eager nostalgia, only to be told by the mysterious piano playing neighbour that “there’s naeb’dy in”. To kill time, Frankie goes on a musical and terpsichorean journey full of litanies through his past from childhood to adulthood.
The piece is not time specific and there has been no updating to the 21st century but I recall the original set being starker and darker. The painted city backdrop showing a skyline with a Saltire backs a slanty edged corrugated iron panel (that could pass for organ pipes) and the seemingly perpetually shut panelled door that Frankie keeps chapping.
There is a cosy 40watt glow on the set, just the kind you’d get from the old standard lamp on stage and there are three paper boats on the piano, clearly a nod to Glasgow’s shipbuilding past but also likely another nod to artist George Wyllie’s paper boat, itself a tribute to the city’s lost past.
Following gravelly laughter at an ‘amazing but true’ newspaper headline, Marra opens with a stuttering one-finger version of I belong to Glasgow that completely belies his astounding talent.
While his songwriting is very Scottish, it is never parochial as he marries universal styles with local references and knowledge to fantastic effect. Marra is a Dundonian, but for the purpose of the show, has tuned in beautifully to the Glasgow psyche with possibly esoteric references to Mrs McGuire who, as Glaswegians of a certain age will know, had an unfortunate experience with fishes and the Clyde. He goes for a ‘daunder wi St Mungo tae catch a fish that couldnae swim’ and maybe even gives a wee bunnet tip to Ivor Cutler with his Happy song.
All his songs were danced to by McConnell in what I believe is his unique, masculine, muscular style that is as light as feather in spite of his dancing in a suit and a slipover. He gracefully glides, birls and bends in a series of balletic moves and nifty footwork through the playground, the back green, the fitbaa pitch, the boxing ring, the shipyards, the steelworks, the dance hall, the pub and of course the marching season of Billys and Tims.
He eventually gets home and the set is transformed to a thoroughly kitsch yet strangely recognisable Scottish living room where he goes through the gamut of the weel kent Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant et al to the sounds of a Scottish Country Dance Band.
This feast of nostalgia, written in guid Glesga Scots, is a perfect mix of Glaswegian cynicism, wit and benignity where the perpetual question ‘Dae A know you?’ is never properly answered. It shows the city and its sons warts and all, particularly in the slashing scene when Frankie and his neighbour continually revive like a scene from Candide and end up in an uneasy dance together. The pair have, in Marra’s words,’ [skated] on shiny linoleum’ through this Dear Green Place. Rerr!
Touring till 30 January 2010