I’ve written about Edwin Morgan before, one of Scotland’s greatest writers, and one of humanity’s most humane men. This new play about his last days in a Glasgow nursing home is written by his friend and successor as Makar, Liz Lochead, herself a great poet and quite brilliant dramatist.
It centres on Morgan’s final days in a Glasgow care home and his relationship with his biographer / friend James McGonigal. As the physical and mental frailty take hold, Morgan is tortured by fears that he is losing the ability to write and by constant nightmares. In a life-affirming act of artistic defiance, McGonigal and Morgan shape and beat those terrible symptoms into a final triumphant collection of poetry, “Dreams and Other Nightmares.”
It’s a bit of a curate’s egg of a play (although it is described in the programme as a “new piece for theatre”, which suggests it isn’t meant to be looked at in any traditional sense). As Morgan’s past unravels before us, there are undeniably poignant moments: Morgan’s brief encounter on a bus with a half-drunk tough which promises so much but has to end after fifteen minutes because his ticket won’t take him past the next stop; watching “The Golden Shot” with his long-time lover, John Scott; the utterly bereft grief he suffers when he learns of Scott’s death a year after they had separated (again). Many of these moments are built around Morgan’s poetry (“Strawberries” features heavily in a scene with Scott), as are those moments when we glimpse the risk-taking Morgan, the man who trawled gay meeting places like Green’s Playhouse or Glasgow Green; “I couldn’t not take risks,” he says, even after the nightmare of the rape scene which sent shock waves through Scottish society when it was published forty years ago. You can see Morgan reading it to secondary students here: Glasgow Green.
However, it suffers a little from the same issues I noted in “Hit Me!” last year. The character of James speaks directly to the audience, revealing biographical details, dates of publication, etc. that are all interesting but, for me, rather mediate the dramatic experience for the audience: as such, we see Morgan through those eyes and not through our own. I wanted more of Morgan’s dreams and nightmares, wanted to hear more of his voice, wanted to become better acquainted with his “life force” that tops and tails the script, and I wanted him to speak directly to me.
But it’s a solid, interesting memorial by a fine dramatist. The production is thoughtful too – Morgan’s care home room looks more like a Soviet era prison cell – and the actors are well up to the job. Davie McKay as Morgan brings out an innocence and occasionally irritating vulnerability that no doubt characterised the poet at the end of his life, and there are glimpses of the tetchiness and ego that members of the public like me rarely saw. It’s also nice to see two actors I’ve worked with. Lewis Howden, who plays James, has a lovely, authoritative presence on both stage and film: he played Tulloch in the BBC Education drama I wrote on “The Cone Gatherers”, and I thought he captured the character’s humanity and solidity very well. You can see him in the programme here.
Great too to see Steven Duffy, who played a central role in “The Practicality of Magnolia”. Steven was terrific, and the on screen relationship he struck up with Sheila Hancock was utterly convincing. You can see him in a clip from it here. Steven and Sheila and the wonderful work of Clara Glynn and the crew created a film that was a hundred times better than I could ever have imagined: I owe them eternal thanks. Steven is also a terrific stage actor: I last saw him playing Biff in “Death of a Salesman”, a hugely difficult part he tackled with ease. In this play, he multi-tasks various characters – John Scott, Morgan’s final “muse” Mark Smith, various shady men, care home employees – and as such provides the texture necessary to hold the drama together, which means he has a tremendous influence. It’s no exaggeration to say that the audience watches him whenever he appears, which is evidence of his powerful stage presence.
Two of my favourite videos on the web at the moment – and both from pals!
First of all, this is a short animation by my friend Cinders McLeod, the brilliant Canadian activist and cartoonist behind “Broomie Law”. Cinders works for the Globe and Mail in Toronto, and this is one in her series of child-friendly introductions to economics. It’s charming, and is beautifully voiced by Cinders and her daughter Anya.
The second clip isn’t actually a talented, beautiful friend: it’s actually the talented, handsome son of a talented, beautiful friend! This is Theo, the son of Clara Glynn, the film maker who directed “The Practicality of Magnolia”. Here he is with Brian Cox, who also starred in the film. Isn’t Theo just fantastic!
Just lovely clips!