Opening on a 1950’s tenement living room replete with the trappings of Catholic observance, Liam Lambie’s Tenement 12 tells the tale of Mamie McClure – single mother, housewife, good neighbour, friend and backstreet abortionist.
This gritty and relentless work presented by Shoogalie Road Productions highlights the attitudes towards unwanted pregnancy and mental health in the 50’s, presenting the background to Mamie’s life and the circumstances behind each abortion as a series of vignettes which offer no opinions, just the facts as each protagonist sees it – leaving the audience to draw its own conclusions.
It cleverly presents both sides of the coin – was she doing it purely to survive as she claims; the only person desperate women could turn to in an age when abortion was illegal, contraception hard to come by and poverty rife, or was it for the £5 a time fee, in an era when the average working man’s weekly wage was just that amount. Just how could any practising Catholic, especially of that time, assuage her conscience so easily? The ease with which she can talk about holidays or the weather while she carries out the procedure, with equipment stored in an innocent looking biscuit tin, is chilling. Was she an angel or a devil in disguise – an early pro-choicer, or an opportunist – you decide.
As Mamie McClure, Clare Rooney carries a lot of the weighty dialogue on her shoulders and possibly because of the effort of remembering it she loses something in the delivery, her performance was lacking a little light and shade and certainly variety of expression. That said, she portrays Mamie’s warmth and reassuring presence well. Stand out amongst the supporting cast is Carol Pyper Rafferty whose finely nuanced portrayal of Pat is utterly convincing, her surety of touch makes her a compelling presence on stage. Worthy of praise too is Nicola Clark as Sadie – neighbour, mother and woman whose life ambitions have been erased by eight children, no money and limited choice.
Lambie’s writing captures the era well, the dialogue cleverly echoing the banter between working class women of the 50’s, peppered as it is with Scottish homilies and colloquialisms. This is not an easy watch nor could it be labelled “entertainment”, instead it offers an interesting and compelling insight into a side of life that is so often swept under the carpet – but it is a tale which deserves to be told. With a little trimming and maybe more contrast in tone this work could have legs. New Scottish writing should be applauded and encouraged and Lambie’s play is a welcome addition.