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Theatre Review: Divided

Lorna Irvine is completely won over by the 'wonderful' production.

“They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad,” Phillip Larkin famously once wrote. If only he had met Ronald David Laing, known as RD Laing, eminent Glaswegian psychiatrist and notorious loose cannon of the 60s over-the-counter culture, then he could have seen just how prescient his words were. For Laing, an orthodox approach to treating patients sometimes meant stripping off, taking acid with them or screaming until hoarse. (Well, it was the 60s, after all.) He wrote of families and their role in an individual's psychosis. Ironically, where he really failed, it seemed, was as a father.

Ian Pattison, one of Scotland's best-loved comedy and drama writers, has penned this play based on Laing's fractious relationship with his daughters for Oran Mor's new season, and it is absolutely wonderful. There is not a wasted line in it, and thanks to director Paddy Cunneen, a fantastic trio of performances from Billy Mack as Laing, and Rebecca Elise as Karen and Gemma McEihinney as Susie- Laing's two abandoned daughters.

It is the 1970s and RD Laing sits drinking whiskey and reminiscing about his own genius. He seems more concerned with his own ego: drinking, Ute, the woman he casually replaced his wife and family for and working on his autobiography. That is, until Karen calls him with the news that Susie has leukaemia. Is it too late for him to start being a Dad to her?

Mack's mercurial, energetic performance is as heart-breaking as it is cocky, and it is great to see Elise in the role of an older feisty woman rather than the gamine young types she often plays. McEihinney is subtle, if slightly underwritten as Susie.

The stage itself is split in two, thus creating the sense of a divided family- one half for where Laing's increasingly frantic monologues take place, the other for where his daughters sit, hoping for a crumb of compassion. But, “God has a very Glasgow sense of humour,” Laing argues, and the ending isn't pretty. Just, one suspects, as Laing would want it.

A touching, pithy slice of family dysfunction.

Tags: theatre

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