Damned Rebel Bitches, Traverse Theatre

By guest critic Liam Rees

Damned Rebel Bitches is a real joy to watch thanks, in no small part, to Tina Gray’s delightful portrayal of Ella, a no-nonsense, free-spirited, gin-loving octogenarian. It tells Ella’s life story, from surviving the Clydeside Blitz and falling in love, to saving her feckless grandson’s failing marriage in the middle of Hurricane Sandy. By writer and director Sandy Thomson, this transatlantic epic about survival in the face of disaster doesn’t have any time for tired stereotypes. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air.

Gray is ably supported by Eilidh McCormick, Geoffrey Pounsett and Jeremiah Reynolds as Ella’s sister, husband and aforementioned feckless grandson, respectively. Although this is undoubtedly Ella’s story, Damned Rebel Bitches is equally an ensemble piece with the company deftly switching roles, providing alternative perspectives to the central plot and bringing great physicality to the piece as a whole. Natasha Jenkins’ set is at once, a bombsite, bedroom, an Irish bar, and an attic full of memories – perfectly evoking the messiness of memory, trauma and the absolute mess of the world at any given time.

However, the production’s charm isn’t quite enough to cover up some of the sprawling dramaturgy. There are too many subplots that distract from rather than enrich Ella’s story, not to mention a dramaturgically convenient neuroscience student who just so happens to be studying the effects of trauma on memory, which is a bit too on the nose. It feels quite patronising to have the theme so brazenly spelled out.

Nevertheless Damned Rebel Bitches remains an important piece of work from Poorboy. In a world that feels dominated by American media and narratives, it’s a strange yet enjoyable experience to witness Scottish-ness taken seriously and not played just for laughs for the benefit of American characters. 

Furthermore Poorboy and Luminate (Scotland’s creative ageing festival) can definitely be proud of themselves for thoroughly tearing up the rulebook about elderly characters and for giving us a great role model for growing old disgracefully.

Damned Rebel Bitches runs through 30 September.

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