Forgotten classic Men Should Weep fights back

Image caption Ena Lamont Stewart's play is a drama about a family living in poverty in 1930s Glasgow

By some strange quirk of fate, I appear to be one of the few people in Scotland to have seen not just one but several productions of Men Should Weep over the years.

Most theatregoers will not have been so fortunate.

Since 1946, when Ena Lamont Stewart first wrote her searing drama about a family living in poverty in 1930s Glasgow, the play has been a firm favourite with schools and amateur dramatics companies (thanks to its witty dialogue and lots of feisty female characters) but singularly snubbed by the professionals.

Even an acclaimed production by 7:84 in the 1980s could not rescue it from the archives.

Then the National Theatre in London named it in its Top 100 plays of the 20th century and staged a much-lauded version of the show starring Sharon Small and Karen Dunbar.

Less than a year later, the National Theatre of Scotland is, perhaps belatedly, reclaiming the play with another new production.

Cramped rooms

Director Graham McLaren is no stranger to adapting classics.

With Liz Lochhead and Theatre Babel, he gave Greek classics a Scottish twist.

And there's something of a Greek tragedy about this production - despite the mundane domestic setting.

A family quite literally fighting for their lives amid the poverty, depression and desperation of 1930s Glasgow.

The set is two cramped rooms inside a shipping container, in which family, friends and neighbours cram themselves and their lives.

With the exception of the odd offstage conversation, song or beating, all the play's action takes place in these two rooms and adds to the relentless, inescapable slow build up.

Death and violence linger around the edges.

For all the warmth and wit of the neighbours' banter, it is clear this family live on the very edge of existence, and when Maggie (played by Lorraine McIntosh) sinks her head into her hands and despairs how she will get through another day, you genuinely feel her weariness.

Men should weep
Image caption Lorraine McIntosh and Michael Nardone's pillow talk is a counterpoint to the raw emotion

It is the women who are at the centre of this story, and Maggie, the Morrison family matriarch at the centre of that circle.

Lorraine McIntosh is a perfect bit of casting - both funny and fierce, a woman you believe would do anything for her family.

Her onstage chemistry with her co-star Michael Nardone is also crucial.

You really believe this couple dote on each other, clinging together in the worst of times.

Their gentle pillow talk (in full earshot of the rest of the family) is a counterpoint to the play's raw emotional ending.

The ensemble cast of neighbours, friends and family do a sterling job of injecting some much needed humour.

Julie Wilson Nimmo stands out as Maggie's kind but brittle sister, Lily, as does Charlene Boyd as the devious daughter-in-law, Isa.

There are even songs - delivered in the scene changes by Arthur Johnstone.

But they too follow the spiral of the drama: the jolly singalong of The Day We Went to Rothesay O, descending into a heartbreaking rendition of Hard Times.

The audience at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre doesn't need to be told this a Scottish classic.

Its language, although slightly archaic, is still familiar.

Men Should Weep -
Image caption It is the women who are at the centre of this story

Many recall living in wally closes, sharing toilets with the neighbours.

And the shell-suited youths who first open the container to reveal the play's tenement set, are a subtle reminder of the poverty that continues to affect many of our communities today.

There's hollow laughter near the end as Maggie dreams of a wee house with a back green and an inside toilet.

The problems of sprawling urban estates are yet to come.

A woman quietly sobs in the row behind.

This is a production which really puts the audience through the emotional wringer.

And this, believe it or not, is the happy ending.

Ena Lamont Stewart originally wrote a version in which most of the characters succumbed to the great killers of the time - TB, alcoholism, starvation and death in childbirth.

It was a bleak, dark ending, deemed too close to the bone for those who had only just survived it.

And although the National Theatre of Scotland plan a staged reading of it, I suspect it would have been beyond the endurance of this audience.

So this is a tale of survival.

Of Maggie and her family, whose struggles to simply live are still as vital in the 21st century as they were in the 20th.

And of a play, written off in the writer's lifetime but now given the platform it deserves as a classic slice of Scottish theatrical life.

Men Should Weep is at the Citizen's Theatre until 8 October then touring Scotland.