The late Scottish playwright, Ena Lamont Stewart, has her work performed again in London some four decades since this trio of plays were first staged in Wimbledon. Knocking On The Wall is just one of the three short plays directed by Finlay Glen and currently running at the Finborough Theatre.
Ena Lamont Stewart wrote about real people, her play Men Should Weep caused quite a stir for its realistic portrayal of working-class Glaswegians. It’s no different here, Towards Evening, Walkies Time For a Black Poodle, and Knocking On The Wall are all set in 1970’s Glasgow, and feature characters that feel wholly authentic.
Delyth Evans’ set needs only minor adjustments between each play, the furniture can all remain in the same place because they’re all set in a sitting room of one kind or another. In Walkies Time For A Black Poodle, Ella’s room may be a little posher than Leonard and Edie’s in Towards Evening, but essentially these are plays about living, the room is merely where that living takes place.
There are a few common themes that run through each of the plays. There’s at least one character in each that shares their internal monologue, Zoe Ritchie’s lighting design highlighting when that’s what we’re hearing. Most noticeably though is the way Ena Lamont Stewart can constantly surprise the audience, subverting our expectations of how the characters should behave.
In Walkies Time For a Black Poodle we see Ella (Joanne Gallagher) a working class girl elevated to a higher station in life but miserable as a result, her cleaner is ‘upper class’ but struggling for money and dealing with her own demons.
In Towards Evening we meet a brother and sister played beautifully by Robert Hands and Janette Foggo. They’ve grown up separately and with considerably different opportunities in life (by nature of one being a girl) but are reunited by the same sense of loneliness. This one in particular is enjoyable to see unfold as it slowly uncovers years of hidden resentment but always returns to the sibling bond.
The final play, which also gives the whole evening its title, is easily the best. It’s also the only one that isn’t a two hander. With a burst pipe in the kitchen, nervous wreck Dorothy waits with Alec, the plumbers mate, for the boss to arrive. In the space of just over thirty minutes we’re presented with a whole spectrum of comedy and tragedy; the audience both howling with laughter and wincing in sympathy.
It’s also here we see the strongest performances with Jasmine Hyde as Dorothy and Matt Littleson as Alec, both delivering a masterclass in comic timing.
A trio of plays about ordinary Glasgow folk could have been tricky for London audiences, but a combination of the astute writing and Finlay Glen’s smart direction ensures that Knocking On The Wall can work anywhere. Ena Lamont Stewart’s rich characters come to life in this sublime evening of Scottish plays.
Knocking On The Wall is at Finborough Theatre until 25th November 2023.