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  The Theatreguide.London Review

Men Should Weep
Lyttelton Theatre   Autumn-Winter 2010 - 2011

Ena Lamont Stewart's 1947 drama was included among the National Theatre's 100 Greatest Plays of the Twentieth Century, though it may be one of the least-known on the list.

Her earnest and sentimental portrait of the Glasgow poor has a dated quality, but it also has undeniable strengths, all of which Josie Rourke's new production shows to their best advantage.

A family of seven is crowded in a tiny tenement flat. Father looks for work but can't find it, feckless eldest son has married a cold and heartless girl, eldest daughter is on her way to being no better than she should be, one of the younger children has TB, and mother struggles as mothers do to keep it all from falling apart.

Through most of the play Stewart's eye is unflinching, seeing the anguish of a man who can't provide, the resignation of a woman who can't be too proud to accept charity, and the mixed quality of neighbours who can switch in an instant from sincere support to catty backbiting because, after all, they have problems of their own.

Only in a final scene does the playwright allow herself and us the respite of imagining a string of events that make things somewhat less hopeless just in time for Christmas.

Josie Rourke treats this mix of objective reporting and sentimental melodrama in exactly the right way - with total respect and commitment, avoiding any temptation either to gild the lily or to distance us from the play's flaws.

And as a result it works far more than it doesn't as we are drawn into Stewart's world, soap opera elements and all.

Sharon Small gives a powerful performance, all the more so because it is never flashy, as the wife and mother who must by default be the strongest member of the family while never rubbing her husband's nose in that fact.

Robert Cavanah lets us see beyond the failure to the good man robbed by circumstances of the opportunity to be the breadwinner he wants to be.

Sarah MacRae makes us believe that the wild daughter has more to her than just the tramp, while Morven Christie lets loose as the daughter-in-law from hell.

Men Should Weep may remind you of the novels of Catherine Cookson in their depiction of early twentieth-century poverty, and of the plays of Sean O'Casey in their portraits of strong women and weak men.

But it has its own vision and its own strengths, and if you look past the soap opera you will be absorbed and touched by it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Men Should Weep - National Theatre 2010

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