Ena Lamont Stewart. I’d never heard of this Scottish playwright before Bernadette Cochrane lent me her play to read. And what a treasure it is.
It takes a little while to adjust to the brogue in Men Should Weep. This is a play written entirely in the regional dialect with which it should be spoken. At the start, before I found my ear for it (or should that be eye for it), I had to stop at the end of each sentence to do a mental translation. But after a few pages you start to settle into the language and then it takes you over. Or it did me.
Dominic Dromgoole wrote a wonderful piece about the play in The Guardian in 2005, a year before Ena Lamont Stewart died. It’s well worth a read. He quotes Ena on why she wrote this piece:
“One evening in the winter of 1942 I went to the theatre. I came home in a mood of red-hot revolt against cocktail time, glamorous gowns and underworked, about-to-be deceived husbands. I asked myself what I wanted to see on stage and the answer was Life. Real Life. Real People.”
Apparently, she wrote Men Should Weep in two days. That flabbergasts me, but it’s possible that this wonderful play burned out of her in 48 hours of inspired writing.
Men Should Weep is a tenement drama, set in the miserable, cramped confines of a tenement house in Glasgow. Maggie is worn to a frazzle, caring for seven children, her elderly mother-in-law and a husband who’s out of work. The play was written in 1947 and is set in the 1930s, in a time when men didn’t do work that was ‘beneath’ them: like cleaning or helping in the kitchen. So Maggie is left to clean other people’s homes to try to put food on the table, before coming home at the end of the day to make a start on her own.
JOHN: Ma Goad! Whit a hell o a hoose tae come hame tae!
MAGGIE: It’s no ma fault! I’ve din a hale copper-fu o washin an scrubbed three floors an the hale lot o yous had naethin tae dae but lie in yer beds! Ye couldna even wash up a dish for me. It’s me that aye has tae dae twa jobs when you get the sack.
JOHN: Aw, shut up harpin on that string. It’s no ma fault. I’ve been oot lookin for work.
MAGGIE: Aye, I’ve seen yous men lookin for work. Haudin up the street corners, ca’in doon the Government – tellin the world whit you’d da if you wis rinnin the country –
This could be a political piece, and it could also be a staunch feminist text, but instead it is a tender, funny and moving story that may provoke political or gender-based reactions, but doesn’t insist on them. I loved it. And loved the fact that it has so many strong and fabulous roles for women.
Publisher: Samuel French
Cast: 9F, 4M, 2 children