We don’t need the playlist of early ‘90s hits that fills the interval to tell us that Rona Munro’s Bold Girls, first staged at Cumbernauld Theatre in 1991 by the Scottish political people’s theatre company 7:84, has passed from urgently contemporary document to period piece in the intervening 27 years. And yet this revival from the Citizens Theatre Company under the direction of Richard Baron has found its own moment, and feels utterly current to conversations happening now.
In 2017, the Northern Ireland Troubles are over, more or less, but Munro’s (writer of the National Theatre of Scotland’s James Plays, and a few classic episodes of Doctor Who) play brings them vividly back to life as an experience filled with mundane horror. When the kitchen sink tableau of three Irish women preparing for a night out with jokes and reminiscent laughter is punctuated with staccato gunshots somewhere outside in the darkness, it’s hard to know whether to feel more astonished by the close proximity of murderous violence to their lives, or the sense of banal, tutting concern and then business-as-usual with which they greet this obviously regular occurrence.
For the audience, a sense of fearful claustrophobia lurks at the edges of the play, but for these women the pressures of family and just getting on with life blur the really nasty stuff. Nora (Deirdre Davis) is the elder of the trio, a busybody but humorous with it, while the two younger women have intimate cause to blame the Troubles for what is wrong in their lives; Nora’s daughter Cassie (Scarlett Mack), because her husband has been imprisoned, and her best friend Marie (Lucianne McEvoy), because her husband Michael has died.
Michael’s picture hangs in the corner of the room, like a fifth, unspeaking character, at first a hallowed relic but then more of a cursed, bad luck charm as the play develops. Munro’s dialogue is sharp and earthy, immediately recognisable to an audience seated in the Gorbals of Glasgow, a city which has its connections to both halves of Belfast’s divide, and we see that these women are not immediately defined by the Troubles around them.
Yet the ghost-like presence of Deirdre (Sinead Sharkey), a young woman unknown to the trio, who bursts, bedraggled, into Marie’s living room and asks for warmth and a shower, seems to infect the others with her simmering anger. From home to club and back again, she follows them, and each woman exposes what they’ve had to keep bottled up to survive; Marie’s fear; Nora’s controlling concern for her daughter; Cassie’s rage.
Whether the emphasis has shifted any from Munro’s original telling or not, looking at this play through the lens of 2017 offers a sharp focus upon where their problems lie. Not in the civil war their husbands fought, but in their own trust in and respect for these men in the first place. With the £200 she’s saved up, Cassie wants to get out of Belfast, but the city might just be a metaphor for the stifling patriarchal control she has given herself to, and only in confused, rootless, bold Deirdre does the future’s opportunity present itself to these lost women.
Bold Girls is at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until February 10th. For more details, click here.