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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Maggie and Me (Dundee Rep)

Surprising portrait of an 80s childhood

It is easy for a young person, especially a young queer person, especially a young queer theatre person, to be dismissive of stories about growing up gay before our lifetime. After you have read through show description after show description promising a true story about being from a particular decade, minority, economic status, or all three, you can lose sight of the human experience behind it. I must confess that, going into Maggie and Me, I had such reservations. I was expecting a self-indulgent autobiography, the kind that is always heartfelt but ultimately more transformative for the performer than it is for the audience. Well, I was wrong, so wrong that I felt the need to write about it despite the fact I saw it “off duty” so to speak.

The first thing I was wrong about was that it was an autobiography. Gary Lamont stars as Damian Barr, writer of the memoir that the performance is based on. The second thing I was wrong about was that it would be a solo performance. To look at the poster, which shows Lamont at a desk surrounded by papers, teacakes, CDs and photos of Margaret Thatcher, you might think this was a storytelling solo show contained within the office of a procrastinating writer. And sure, that is where we start, specifically in 2008 in Brighton, but soon the walls divide, the sky opens up, and a cast of seven appear to tell a time-travelling story of one childhood on an epic scale.

Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

The childhood in question is made extraordinary by Barr and James Lay’s writing, which conveys not only the past trauma but also the difficulty of opening up about it. Every memory is held dear, even in the darkest moments. That said the tone is not one of abject misery. Instead, it balances humour with darkness, both of which are encapsulated in Beth Marshall’s performance as Maggie, our tour guide through 80s Lanarkshire. She manages to be both hateable and admirable in just the way that has made her an unlikely gay icon. The only thorn in the cast’s side is Nicola Jo Cully, whose overacting occasionally feels characterful but often feels loud and out of place. Of course, the star of the performance is Lamont, whose performance is tender, funny, and unembarrassed to act childishly.

I find Maggie and Me remarkable. It makes the same promises as many similar shows: to share a difficult past, to give voice to a community that had none, and to capture a particular place at a particular time with honesty and heart. Not only does it deliver, but it reminds you why those values are important in the first place, why it isn’t self-indulgent so much as an urgent personal need. Here, that need has paid off with a performance that is about the 80s, performed in the 20s, through the lens of the 00s. Who knew that’s what we needed? Five stars.

Maggie and Me has completed its run at the Dundee Rep but will play at the Royal & Derngate in Northhampton from the 6th-8th of June and at the Traverse in Edinburgh from the 12th to the 15th of June.


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