From the Clydebank Blitz in WW2, where Ella and her older sister Irene are orphaned, through emigration to New York in the 50s, a return to Scotland after widow-hood, to the streets of New York in 2012, Sandy Thomson’s Damned Rebel Bitches, part of Luminate the creative ageing Festival, is a joyous celebration of the women of the war years and an inspiring rallying call that life can be lived to the full, no matter what your age.
It’s 2012, and Ella’s grandson Cameron has disappeared in New York, with Hurricane Sandy looming, 80-year-old Ella packs her backpack and her walking poles and heads to the Big Apple with her 86-year-old sister, to sort it out.
Using age-blind casting and with the eras intertwining using flashback/forward, this is a vastly ambitious work, full of big ideas, and all the more compelling for that. This truly is a rollicking tale that flies by in the blink of an eye, belying its two and a half hour running time.
Ella is a survivor, a risk-taker, there’s a spark that is present throughout her life, and a never diminishing fire inside, and veteran actress Tina Gray shines as this feisty and fabulous woman. This ain’t no ‘nice old lady’, this is a woman you know would have your back in the toughest of times. This is an 80 year-old who is Tinder, Facebook and life-savvy, who can hot-wire a car and wield a gun if need be. Gray is more than ably supported by her fellow (younger and multi-national) cast mates Eilidh McCormick as older sister Irene, Geoffrey Pounsett as Canadian husband Pete and Jeremiah Reynolds as American grandson Cameron. Each turns in a perfectly judged and utterly compelling performance.
As Bette Davis said, and as quoted in the play: “old age ain’t no place for sissies”, but what an adventure it can be. This is stand-out storytelling: life affirming and above all hugely entertaining.
Reviewed at Platform, Easterhouse, Glasgow.
You can still catch it at:
Irvine Harbour Arts on Fri 6 October 2017
Paisley Arts Centre on Sat 7 October 2017