Liam Lambie’s hard-hitting but hysterically funny When We Were Young, lays bare the lives of young Glaswegians living through the 1990s and early 2000s in a city dubbed “the murder capital of Europe”.
A story of gang culture, the “young team mentality” living from giro to giro, and the complete and utter lack of hope. It claims to be a representation of the past, but it has an all too frighteningly familiar resonance today. Poverty breeds crime, crime robs you of opportunity and the cycle perpetuates with depressing regularity. Generations remain mired in the gloom.
Mooney, Gee, Tam and Joe and their women Michaela, Sammy and Mags live lives smack bang in the centre of the cycle, inured to the violence. Gang fights are a daily occurrence, doing it because it’s the done thing, and nothing is off the table when it comes to making a few bob.
Lambie’s work takes you beyond the lurid tabloid headlines to the heart of the living breathing human beings. How it feels to live with full cognisance that the “lives we live are lamentable”, scared that every day you are perpetuating the stereotypes, there are moments of great reflection and profound commentary here.
The comedy (and there’s plenty of it) comes from adversity. Lambie has an astonishing ear for dialogue, especially Glasgow patter, the text is dense and the lines are delivered with bullseye precision. There’s light and shade throughout, the humour and pathos cleverly balanced.
The cast are universally excellent, every word, every swagger has a realism, under Lambie’s direction none are caricatured, you are living with these characters, rooting for them to find a way out. There are particularly fine performances from Lambie himself as Mooney, the lynch pin of the motley gang and Dionne Frati as his girlfriend Michaela. Frati has as fine a comic touch as she does in the grim dramatic moments.
There is so much to applaud about this production, the storyline gripping, the acting and direction are on-point. Lambie must be lauded for giving voice to a section of society so overlooked in mainstream theatre.
When we were young is a triumph, one not to be missed.