Theatre review: a terrible beauty (oran mor)

A Terrible Beauty
A Terrible Beauty

In recent weeks it’s been tempting to read everything as a comment on the Scottish referendum debate - often with scant reason.

But those in the audience for ‘A Terrible Beauty’ - the latest offering at Glasgow Oran Mor’s ‘A Play, A Pie and A Pint’ programme of lunchtime theatre - are left in no doubt that history gives an insight into the challenges facing Scotland in the coming months.

Written by Rab C Nesbitt creator Ian Pattinson, the sprightly three-hander takes place in Ireland in 1922.

Michael Collins (John Kielty) is the leader of the new Irish Free State’s army - formed after negotiating an independence treaty with the British Government.

But Collins’ former allies in the Irish Nationalist movement disagree with the treaty and have raised arms against both the Brits and their former leader - who they belive has sold out his country.

One of the Nationalists, an unseen Eamon de Valera, is using his troops to threaten and obfuscate, as the lines between friends and enemies are continually redrawn and the political map moves on shifting sands.

The play predominantly takes in a single day of the momentous events, with De Valera sending an emissary called Crowley (a devilish name for a devilish man played with brimstone in his eye by George Docherty) to negotiate with Collins as guns echo outside.

Meanwhile, a young volunteer called McPeak (played with wide-eyed amazement by Gavin Wright) is drafted in to take notes on what could be a life-changing meeting for an entire nation.

It’s a fascinating look at politics and power games, with uniformly excellent performances and several dizzying changes in direction.

The fact that new recruit McPeak is Scottish is no accident - the Irish situation is refracted through the prism of his own nascent nationalism, offering a look at what has been and could be.